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A qualitative study exploring female patients' experiences of self-harm in a medium secure unit


  • Organization to which the work should be attributed: School of Health, University of Central Lancashire.


A. Baker

Bronte House

Ashworth Hospital



Liverpool L31 1HW




Accessible summary

  • This study explores the experience of five women who self-harm and are cared for by a medium secure (forensic) service.
  • The five women speak of their own understanding of their self-harm.
  • Six themes emerged, each with sub-themes. These are:
    • ‘the traumatized individual’
    • ‘interrupted maturation process’
    • ‘the hidden experience’
    • ‘crossing the line’
    • ‘individual and systemic repercussions’
    • ‘nascent potential protection’
  • We concluded that a joint approach between women and their health workers, which included a shared understanding of their self-harm, would be helpful to all parties.


This study utilized a social constructivist model and reports upon interviews conducted with five female patients in a medium secure service. Their perception of self-harm is considered. Six themes emerged from the data, ‘the traumatized individual’, ‘interrupted maturation process’, ‘the hidden experience’, ‘crossing the line’, ‘individual and systemic repercussions’, ‘nascent potential protection’. In addition to the six themes that emerged, we concluded that, although individual perceptions of self-harm varied, commonalities existed across accounts and that individual formulation may assist both patients and staff to gain a personalized understanding, thus, enabling less harmful ways of coping to be established.