A systematic review and meta-ethnography to explore people’s experiences of psychotherapy for self-harm.

R. Haw, S. Hartley, S. Trelfa, P. J. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Self-harm is a major public health concern. Lifetime prevalence is high, and rates of self-harm are rising, however available interventions do not benefit everyone and engagement with therapy can be low. Qualitative accounts allow for a greater understanding of what is helpful to individuals. This study aimed to synthesise the experiences of interventions for self-harm, from participants who have participated in these themselves.

Methods: Participants had self-harmed at least once and undergone an individual psychotherapeutic intervention for self-harm. Papers not written or translated to the English language were excluded. Four databases (Medline, CINAHL, Web of Science and PsycINFO) were systematically searched and each paper was assessed using the CASP quality appraisal tool. A meta-ethnographic approach to the synthesis was taken.

Results: Ten studies encompassing 104 participants were included. Four overarching themes were developed and the importance of recognising the person beyond the self-harm emerged through a line of argument synthesis. Building a trusted, therapeutic relationship founded on patience and without judgement was essential for the perceived success of therapy, which was unique to each person and often went beyond reducing self-harming behaviours.

Limitations: Papers included in the study showed a lack of diversity with regards to ethnicity and gender. Conclusions: The findings illustrate the importance of the therapeutic alliance when working with self-harm. Clinical implications of this paper include the importance of utilising key therapeutic competencies which should be considered fundamental to change within psychotherapeutic interventions for self-harm, with the uniqueness of each patient recognised throughout.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Feb 2023


  • self-harm
  • suicide
  • intervention
  • psychotherapy
  • qualitative
  • systematic review


Dive into the research topics of 'A systematic review and meta-ethnography to explore people’s experiences of psychotherapy for self-harm.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this