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Exploring the therapeutic affordances of self-harm online support communities: An online survey of members

Coulson, Neil, Bullock, Emma and RODHAM, Karen (2017) Exploring the therapeutic affordances of self-harm online support communities: An online survey of members. JMIR Mental Health, 4 (4). ISSN 1438-8871

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Abstract or description

Background: A growing number of online communities have been established to support those who self-harm. However, little is known about the therapeutic affordances arising from engagement with these communities and resulting outcomes.

Objective: To explore the presence of therapeutic affordances as reported by members of self-harm online support communities.

Methods: In total, 94 respondents (aged 13 to 63 years, M=23.5 years; 94% female) completed an online survey exploring their experiences of engaging with a self-harm online support community. Respondents varied in terms of how long they had been accessing an online community, with 22.3% less than 1 year, 39.4% 1-2 years, 13.8% 2-3 years and 24.5% more than 3 years. Responses were analysed using deductive thematic analysis.

Results: The results of our analysis describe each of the 5 therapeutic affordances that were present in the data, namely: 1) “connection”, the ability to make contact with others who self-harm for the purposes of mutual support and in so doing reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation; 2) adaptation”, that is, how use of online support varies in relation to the personal circumstances of the individual user; 3) “exploration” that is, the ability to learn about self-harm and learn about strategies to reduce or stop self-harming behaviour; 4) “narration”, that is, the ability to share experiences as well as read about the experiences of others; and 5) “self-presentation”, that is, how and what users present about themselves to others in the online community.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that engagement with self-harm online support communities may confer a range of therapeutic benefits for some users which may serve to minimise the psycho-social burden of self-harm and promote positive coping strategies. In addition, the online nature of the support available may be helpful to those who are unable to access face-to-face support.

Item Type: Article
Faculty: School of Life Sciences and Education > Psychology
Depositing User: Karen RODHAM
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2017 12:55
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:49

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