Her name was Cassie and she was my next client that Friday afternoon. As I brought them into my office, Cassie was dragging far behind making sure to avoid any eye contact. As soon as the door shut, mom started telling me how concerned she was about her daughter. She quickly dissolved into tears as she spoke of finding bloody tissues, pins, and razors in the bathroom. She went on to describe Cassie’s firm refusal to show mom her arms. As mom sobbed I could almost hear a low growl coming from Cassie, “my mom is crazy…I don’t cut…I don’t need a therapist. If anything, she is the one who needs help!” I finished the intake and asked mom if I could have a few minutes alone with Cassie.
“Thank God she’s gone!” Cassie’s posture relaxed a bit and then turned her eyes toward me, “You know I don’t need a therapist!” She was angry and I didn’t blame her. I know at 15 I would have been just as upset if my mom had forced me to sit and talk to some therapist! I would certainly agree with Cassie and feel that my mom was “crazy.” Day after day this scene is repeated in my office and each time my heart goes out to the parents, teenagers, and young adults.
I told Cassie that I didn’t see her as “crazy.” In fact it was quite the opposite; I admired her for sitting with me and talking. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t going to pry into her life or jump right into asking her about any cutting behaviors. After a while therapy was no longer a big deal to Cassie and she began to open up about the pain that she was feeling. She allowed me beneath her tough outer shell, her porcupine coat, to see the heart of a girl who was struggling just to make it through the day.
She used to write poetry to try to express her feelings; that is until her mom found it and it made her cry. She vowed to never do that again! She had heard from some friends about “cutting” and one day she tried it. For Cassie it was just the release that she needed. It provided almost the same feeling she had when she wrote the dark poetry. Cutting also scared her. She confessed to me that she hated the marks that it left. She felt embarrassed and she wore long sleeves all the time. She felt afterwards that her marks were a sign to others that she was “troubled and crazy.” She did want to stop and therapy progressed rapidly from that point on. Cassie found that talking to someone had almost the same effect as the cutting or poetry writing did. Being able to get the dark stuff out, and being able to start sorting through the confusing thoughts was exactly what she needed. Cassie was finding that her need to cut was disappearing.
So what do I do if my friend is cutting? Never judge or blame them.
- Remember, research has stated that by definition, cutters do not want to kill themselves, but it is a cry or a sign that the person needs help!
- Listen – really hear what they have to say
- Hug them if they will let you or sit by their side
- Say, “I am sorry you are hurting”
- Ask, “How can I help?”
- Immediately put away self focused thoughts
- It’s time to offer help…never anger or shame
- Never ask to see the cuts…these are personal and only a symptom of the pain
- Encourage your friend to tell someone…counselor, adult friend, or a youth group leader. Therapy is one of the best routes to help your friend work through their pain.