SELF – Shannon Purser, AKA Barb On ‘Stranger Things,’ Overcame Self-Harm

Self harm can sometimes be a dangerous element of depression, and actress Shannon Purser has recently come out about her struggles with cutting. Although self harm can offer brief psychological relief to intense emotional pain, it can also cause an emotional backlash afterwards with people feeling disappointed in themselves or ashamed for hurting themselves.

SELF asked me to help readers understand what’s important to know about self harm, and I was pleased to help out with this great piece.


Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF that the reasons why people engage in self-harm in the first place are “complicated,” adding, “everybody who self-harms does so for slightly different reasons.” In her experience, young people begin to self-harm because they’ve heard that it can help dull emotional pain by introducing sharper, physical pain that’s in their control, unlike emotional pain. “Some cutters even believe that such sharp pain stimulates the production of endorphins—feel-good brain chemicals that can help them cope with the emotional pain they’re suffering,” she says, adding that this idea isn’t true. Self-harm also often has a component of self-punishment that can feel deserved and relieving in an emotionally painful situation, Clark says.


In order to learn better coping mechanisms, therapy is almost always a part of recovery, Clark says, noting that experts typically use Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a treatment method specifically designed for self-harm. DBT is based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (a form of therapy that seeks to change harmful learned behaviors by replacing them with new, healthier ones) and Eastern philosophies, and it’s designed to help people understand the causes of emotional pain while employing different, more productive coping strategies, Clark explains.


Clark says it’s definitely possible for people to stop self-harm, like Purser did. “The urge to self-harm during times of intense pain and emotional distress can linger, but the behaviors don’t have to,” Clark says. “Learning more effective coping strategies can significantly lessen these urges and the intensity with which strong emotions are felt, such that people can achieve full recoveries.”

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD