Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 73 Issue 2 (June 2000), Pages 145-288

Childhood trauma, dissociation and self‐harming behaviour: A pilot study (pages 269-278)

Objective: Childhood trauma is known to be an important antecedent in those who engage in deliberate self‐harm (DSH). We aimed to explore the mediating mechanisms between childhood trauma and subsequent DSH in a sample of women detained in a high secure setting. Method: From a previous incidence study into DSH, we subdivided a group of 50 women as follows: non‐harmers (N = 13), infrequent harmers (N = 22) and frequent harmers (N = 15). These three groups were then compared on several measures believed to be associated with DSH. Results: The frequency of DSH was related to low self‐esteem, increased dissociation, anger (both inwardly and outwardly directed), impulsivity, and a history of sexual and physical abuse. When these variables were entered into a path analytic model exploring the relationship between childhood trauma and subsequent DSH, two paths emerged: one major path which linked childhood sexual abuse to DSH via increased dissociation and another, more minor association, linking childhood sexual abuse via reduced self‐esteem. Conclusion: This study shows a strong association between high levels of dissociation and an increased frequency of self‐harming behaviour. This association is theoretically plausible and has therapeutic implications.

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