“I am a Residential Therapist and a recent graduate. And I have concerns about how to address my self-harm scars to my clients.
I have considered surgery for the major scars and tattoos for the minor scars. Looking for insight from others in the professional or helping field.” -R-A Dubbs
We put this question out to other therapists, and their responses were awesome…
I have covered some with tattoos but not all. I don’t hide them but I also don’t bring them up on my own. If a client asks me in session, depending on client, I would ask what made them curious and potentially use it as a process moment to discuss what it would mean “if they were self-injury scars.”
I’m not looking for my clients to ask. I’m merely not hiding them. I’ve known many people (myself included) that are simply comforted that other people also struggle. I’ve had people say they feel empowered when they see other professional types show these types of things because it shows they can do it (be a professional after recovery) too.
Out of all my years working as a therapist, I’ve only had two clients out right ask me. I more often get the question “have you ever done this?” In regards to self-injury than blatantly asking about scars.
I work in a psychiatric hospital and I cover all of mine with makeup or tattoos. I’m not sure what your client base is like, but with mine, scars can be extremely triggering to patients and put them back into relapses — so it’s not something that can just be explained away. In my experience, the amount that will be triggered is much more than the amount who will feel closer to you because you’ve been through something similar. For you, your scars may be a symbol of growth, and reminder not to return to your past. But if you’re taking that oath to help patients, I do really recommend covering up in some way.
Well, as a therapist, using self as an intervention should be used rarely and only to the benefit of the client. So, unless they straight up ask and you feel it’s appropriate to address it, do so in a way that will help your client with their own journey. This is my own experience as a therapist and going through ethics courses in grad school that helped me navigate self disclosures to my clients, and when or if I should.
I agree with Lauren… I am a therapist in Drug and Alcohol with my own recovery background and I never use self disclosure to build a relationship with a client. That would allow me to be lax in my use of my actual counseling skills. Any moment we spend talking about ourselves is a moment we are not client-centered. If they ask, kindly redirect attention back to the client; often it’s them deflecting away from what they really need to be discussing. Leave them be, but don’t explain them. You have to be the stable one in your relationship with your client.
I am a therapist with similar issue, I work with 12-25-year-old people, and many are presenting with self harm in various forms. I haven’t had to directly address my scars but I see I’m their presence as a way of helping my clients understand that I can relate.
This might sound controversial, but I think you should keep them.
Sometimes a client is helped best when they know their mental health counselor has been through what they have… and gotten to the other side. Think about it — how many addiction support workers are former addicts (drugs, sex, alcohol, love, porn, etc)? Family counselors who have a checkered/spotty family history of their own?
You’re, of course, not in any way obligated to speak to your own past struggled with self-harm, depression, obsessive thoughts/behaviors and/or compulsions with anyone, but I think not making an attempt to hide or otherwise get rid of your scars from when you were in that much different place in your own mental health can physically show someone that they can make it out, even if you never make a point to show or discuss them.
Alternately, I don’t know where your scars are, but it sounds like somewhere visible in typical professional wear. There’s no harm in keeping your office a little chilly and having the excuse to wear longer sleeves or long trousers all year long if you’re uncomfortable.
I have covered most of mine with beautiful tattoos.
Any other mental health professionals in the house? What have you done about mixing your self-harm scars and clients?