Self-harm can be understood as any behavior individuals use to harm themselves, irrespective of motive. Evidence has extensively examined the epidemiology and function of self-harm to the individual, but less is known about the subjective processes underpinning recovery. Such insights could inform therapeutic interventions to better support individuals. The present aim was to synthesize qualitative themes from eligible literature to identify how adolescents, young adults, and those in middle adulthood conceptualize self-harm recovery and the factors impacting this process.
Eleven studies were identified from a systematic search of five electronic research databases: PsycINFO, Embase, Medline, Global Health, and CINAHL. Studies were critically appraised using an adapted Critical Appraisal Skills Program tool for qualitative research. A meta-synthesis was conducted using reflexive thematic analysis to generate themes across the included studies.
Themes depicted recovery as a multidimensional, nonlinear, and subjective process, characterized by a “push and pull” between states of (re-)engagement and cessation/reduction. Transition between these states was influenced by intrapersonal and interpersonal factors which were embedded in a wider milieu of the meaning of self-harm to the individual.
Contemporary ideas of symptom eradication as the only marker of complete recovery may hinder individuals in the long-term, presenting an obstacle both to quality of life and therapeutic progress. Movement away from self-harm recovery as a uniform or singular phenomenon could enhance person-centered care.