Self-administered acupuncture as an alternative to deliberate self-harm: a feasibility study

J Pers Disord. 2011 Dec;25(6):741-54. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2011.25.6.741.


The aim of this mixed methods feasibility study was to demonstrate the acceptability, practicality, and safety of training patients who regularly use deliberate self harm (DSH) to self-administer acupuncture as an alternative coping skill for emotional distress. Ten adult patients with a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder who regularly self-harmed were recruited to the study following baseline assessment by a psychiatrist. An acupuncturist taught participants to self-acupuncture. During the 6-week intervention participants recorded their emotional distress, coping behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a diary. Face-to-face interviews were used to explore participants' motives for DSH and their experience of acupuncture. Framework analysis was conducted on interview transcripts and diary entries to identify common themes. Mood at baseline and six weeks was measured using the BDI and changes in the use of coping behaviors and acupuncture were measured using diary entries. Subjects used acupuncture regularly through the six-week intervention and over this period there was a reduction in the frequency of DSH. Qualitative analysis identified two broad themes relating to the process and the effects of acupuncture. There was wide variation in the effects experienced by subjects which broadly mapped onto to the wide range of motives behind DSH. BDI scores showed a near significant reduction (p = 0.055) from 44.4. to 34.4 over the 6-week intervention. Patients presenting with deliberate self harm can be safely trained to self-administer acupuncture as an alternative coping skill. Acceptability and effectiveness may vary between patients depending on the complex motives underlying their self-harming behavior. While the pilot study was designed to explore the feasibility of the intervention, results from this limited sample suggest that use of self-administered acupuncture may reduce the frequency of self harming behavior and reduce emotional distress as measured using the BDI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Adult
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Self Administration / psychology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult