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Can Therapy Save Lives? Yes!

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Originally posted on December 18, 2014.

Self-preservation is a core instinct, but sometimes people reach an emotional valley in their lives and the best way out seems to be self-harm. Unfortunately, a history of self-harm is one of the best predictors of future self-harm and death by suicide. Can psychotherapy weaken the cycle of self-harm and its relationship to death by suicide?

Yes, according to a recent study. The research examined a group of 22,712 Danish people who had engaged in deliberate self-harm. Some of them received psychotherapy, whereas others did not. Then the researchers determined whether people chose to hurt themselves again, died of any cause, and died by suicide one, five, 10, and 20 years later.

The results were striking. Psychotherapy reduced the risk of future self-harm, death by any cause, and death by suicide. The researchers estimated that “145 self-harm episodes and 153 deaths, including 30 deaths by suicide, were prevented.”

The findings offer hope to those at risk for self-harm and suicide. They also shed light on the power of psychological science to improve and potentially save lives. Some therapies work better than others. For some people, therapy might not work at all. But over all, this research suggests that therapy is worth a try.

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About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”