Self-harm: Qualitative Research


There is a growing body of literature that uses qualitative methods to research self-harm.

However, I have reviewed/read a fair amount of writing that either a) makes no mention of (almost) any of these; b) suggests that there is little to no other qualitative research on the topic. Qualitative research on self-harm is carried out and published in several different disciplines, and the  (diverse) terminology used does not always make it easy to locate. As such, I wanted to collate a list of existing studies, which I’ll add to over time.

If you’ve come across this page and know of a paper/book that is missing (I’m sure there will be a few!), please add a comment with the title/link and I will add it to the list. Please note, the focus of this list is qualitative research that addresses perspectives of people who have self-harmed, rather than professional staff/parents (though evidently, these groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive).

Evolving list of qualitative studies of self-harm/self-injury/NSSI

Abrams, L. and Gordon, A. (2003), ‘Self-Harm Narratives of Urban and Suburban Young Women ‘, Affilia 18 4, 429-444.

Adams, J., Rodham, K. and Gavin, J. (2005), ‘Investigating the “Self” in Deliberate Self-Harm’, Qualitative Health Research, 15, 10, 1293-1309.

Adler, P., & Adler, P. (2011). The Tender Cut: Inside the Hidden World of Self-Injury. New York: New York University Press.

Baker, A., Wright, K. and Hansen, E. (2013), ‘A qualitative study exploring female patients’ experiences of self-harm in a medium secure unit’, Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20(9):821-9.

Baker, D. and Fortune, S. (2008), ‘Understanding Self-Harm and Suicide Websites: A Qualitative Interview Study of Young Adult Website Users’, Crisis: Journal of Crisis Intervention & Suicide, 29, 3, 118-122.

Barton-Breck, A. and B. Heyman (2012). “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative? The variable value dynamics of non-suicidal self-hurting.” Health, Risk & Society 14(5): 445-464.

Borrill, J., Lorenz, E. and Abbasnejad, A. (2012), ‘Using Qualitative Methods to Explore Non-Disclosure: The Example of Self-Injury’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 11, 4, 384-398.

Boynton, P.M. and Auerbach, A. (2008), ‘“I cut because it helps”: Narratives of Self-Injury in Teenage Girls’, Narrative Research in Health and Illness, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Brossard, B. (2014), ‘Fighting with Oneself to Maintain the Interaction Order: A Sociological Approach to Self-Injury Daily Process’, Symbolic Interaction, 37, 4, 558-575.

Brown, T.B. and Kimball, T. (2012), ‘Cutting to Live: A Phenomenology of Self-Harm’, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 39, 2, 195-208.

Chandler, A. (2012), ‘Self-injury as embodied emotion-work: Managing rationality, emotions and bodies’, Sociology, 46, 3, 442-457.

Chandler, A. (2013), ‘Inviting pain? Pain, dualism and embodiment in narratives of self-injury’, Sociology of Health & Illness, 35, 5, 716-730.

Chandler, A. (2014), ‘Narrating the self-injured body’, Medical Humanities, 40, 2, 111-116.

Crouch, W. and Wright, J. (2004), ‘Deliberate Self-Harm at an Adolescent Unit: A Qualitative Investigation’, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 9, 2, 1359-1045.

Curtis, C. (2010). “Youth perceptions of suicide and help-seeking: ‘They’d think I was weak or “mental”’.” Journal of Youth Studies 13(6): 699-715.

Curtis, C. (2016), ‘Young Women’s Experiences of Self-harm: Commonalities, Distinctions and Complexities’, Young, 24, 1, 17-35.

Daley, K. (2015), ‘“I’d Just Cut Myself to Kill the Pain”: Seeing Sense in Young Women’s Self-Injury’, in Wright, K. and McLeod, J. (eds.), Rethinking Youth Wellbeing, Springer Singapore.

Donskoy, A.-L. and Stevens, R. (2013), ‘Starting from scratch: an exploration of the narratives of the first episode of self-wounding’, Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care, 6, 2/3, 62-76.

Evans, R. and C. Hurrell (2016). “The role of schools in children and young people’s self-harm and suicide: systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research.” BMC Public Health 16(1): 1-16.

Everall, R.D., Bostik, K.E. and Paulson, B.L. (2006), ‘Being in the Safety Zone: Emotional Experiences of Suicidal Adolescents and Emerging Adults’, Journal of Adolescent Research, 21, 4, 370-392.

Gulbas, L. E., Tyler, T. R., & Zayas, L. H. (2015). An exploratory study of nonsuicidal self-injury and suicidal behaviors in adolescent Latinas. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(4), 302–314.

Harris, J. (2000), ‘Self-Harm: Cutting the Bad out of Me’, Qualitative Health Research, 10, 2, 164-173.

Hodgson, S. (2004), ‘Cutting through the silence: A Sociological Construction of Self-Injury’, Sociological Inquiry, 74, 2, 162-179.

Horne, O. and Csipke, E. (2009), ‘From Feeling Too Little and Too Much, to Feeling More and Less? A Nonparadoxical Theory of the Functions of Self-Harm’, Qualitative Health Research, 19, 5, 655-667.

Inckle, K. (2005), ‘Who’s Hurting Who? The Ethics of Engaging the Marked Body’, Auto/Biography, 13, 227-248.

Inckle, K. (2014), ‘Strong and Silent: Men, Masculinity, and Self-injury’ Men And Masculinities 17(1), 3-21.

Jacob, N., et al. (2017). “The influence of online images on self-harm: A qualitative study of young people aged 16–24.” Journal of Adolescence 60: 140-147

Johansson, A. (2011). ‘Constituting ‘real’ cutters: A discourse theoretical analysis of self-harm and identity’. In A. E. Sjolander & J. G. Payne (Eds.), Tracking Discourses. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.

Klineberg, E., Kelly, M., Stansfeld, S. and Bhui, K. (2013), ‘How do adolescents talk about self-harm: a qualitative study of disclosure in an ethnically diverse urban population in England’, BMC Public Health, 13, 1, 572.

Kokaliari, E. and Berzoff, J. (2008), ‘Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Among Nonclinical College Women: Lessons From Foucault’, Affilia, 23, 3, 259-269.

Lewis, S. P., & Mehrabkhani, S. (2017). Every scar tells a story: Insight into people’s self-injury scar experiences. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 29(3), 296–310.

Lindgren, B.M., Wilstrand, C., Gilje, F. and Olofsson, B. (2004), ‘Struggling for hopefulness: a qualitative study of Swedish women who self-harm’, Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 11, 284-291.

Marshall, H. and Yadzani, A. (1999), ‘Locating Culture in Accounting for Self-Harm amongst Asian Young Women’, Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 9, 413-433.

McDermott, E. (2015), ‘Asking for help online: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth, self-harm and articulating the ‘failed’ self’, Health, 19, 6, 561-577.

McDermott, E. and K. Roen (2016). Queer Youth, Suicide and Self-Harm – Troubled Subjects, Troubling Norms. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

McDermott, E., Roen, K. and Piela, A. (2015), ‘Explaining Self-Harm: : Youth Cybertalk and Marginalized Sexualities and Genders’, Youth & Society, 47, 6, 873-889.

McDermott, E., Roen, K. and Piela, A. (2013), ‘Hard-to-Reach Youth Online: Methodological Advances in Self-Harm Research’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 10, 2, 125-134.

McDermott, E., Roen, K. and Scourfield, J. (2008), ‘Avoiding shame: young LGBT people, homophobia and self‐destructive behaviours’, Culture, Health & Sexuality, 10, 8, 815-829.

McShane, T. (2012). Blades, Blood and Bandages: The Experiences of People Who Self-Injure. Basingstoke, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Redley, M. (2003), ‘Towards a new perspective on deliberate self-harm in an area of multiple deprivation’, Sociology of Health and Illness, 25, 4, 348-373.

Ritchie, A. (2008) ‘Harming or Healing? The Meanings of Wounding among Sadomasochists Who Also Self-Injure’ in Burr & Hearn (eds) Sex, violence and the body: the erotics of wounding. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Schoppmann, S., Schrock, R., Schnepp, W. and Buscher, A. (2007), ‘”Then I just showed her my arms…” Bodily sensations in moments of alienation related to self-injurious behaviour: A hermeneutic phenomenological study’, Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 14, 6, 587-597.

Scourfield, J., Roen, K. and McDermott, E. (2011), ‘The non-display of authentic distress: public-private dualism in young people’s discursive construction of self-harm’, Sociology of Health & Illness, 33, 5, 777-791.

Sinclair, J. and Green, J. (2005), ‘Understanding resolution of deliberate self harm: qualitative interview study of patients experiences’, British Medical Journal, 330 1112.

Smithson, J., Sharkey, S., Hewis, E., Jones, R.B., Emmens, T., Ford, T. and Owens, C. (2011), ‘Membership and Boundary Maintenance on an Online Self-Harm Forum’, Qualitative Health Research, 21, 11, 1567-1575.

Steggals, P. (2015). Making Sense of Self-harm: The Cultural Meaning and Social Context of Nonsuicidal Self-injury. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Sutherland, O., Breen, A.V. and Lewis, S.P. (2013), ‘Discursive Narrative Analysis: A Study of Online Autobiographical Accounts of Self-Injury’, The Qualitative Report, 18, 95, 1-17.

Wadman, R., Clarke, D., Sayal, K., Vostanis, P., Armstrong, M., Harroe, C., et al. (2016). An interpretative phenomenological analysis of the experience of self-harm repetition and recovery in young adults. Journal of Health Psychology.

Yip, K.-S., Ngan, M.-Y., & Lam, I. (2004). Adolescent self-cutters in Hong Kong. Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 14(2), 33–51.  


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