You have noticed your child is a little off, and then you find some evidence of self-harm, now what? Are you afraid and unsure of how to address your child’s self-harming behaviors? It’s important to ask your child why they are self-harming. Did you know that self-harm does not equate to suicide?

In this podcast episode, I am super excited to have Kerrie Toole on the show. We speak about what parents need to know about self-harm.

Meet Kerrie Toole

What Parents need to know about Self-Harm with Kerri Toole | EU 129

Kerrie Toole, LICSW is the founder and Executive Director of Castlebrook Counseling Services, Inc. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University, where she was trained in DBT and has been practicing this treatment protocol for over 20 years (because she started when she was 4, haha!).

She is a DBT-Linehan Board Certified Clinician (one of only 400 in the US) and specializes in treating suicidal and self-harming teens and adults, and their families, with an additional specialty in LGBTQ+ youth.

Kerrie is passionate about integrating DBT into schools, programs, and communities, and especially about supporting parents of teens who are self-harming and/or suicidal. Kerrie founded Castlebrook Counseling in 2013, and the practice has grown to 29 providers, all with different specialties.

Visit her website. Connect on FacebookInstagram and find her on Psychology Today here.

Email to receive your copy of  “What To Say and What Not To Say” to support your teen.

In This Podcast


  • Self-harm does not necessarily mean your child is suicidal
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your child if they self-harm
  • Happy chemicals are also pain-killers
  • You do the best that you can with what you’ve got
  • Highly sensitive people

Self-harm does not necessarily mean your child is suicidal

There’s a difference between self-harming behavior and suicidal ideation. (Kerri Toole)

Self-harm can release endorphins in the brain, so it feels like it helps people to manage the mental or emotional (or even physical) pain that they are feeling.

For the human brain, pain is pain. It does not differentiate well between emotional or physical pain, and therefore self-harming behavior is a maladaptive coping mechanism that a person develops to try to regulate this pain.

If people don’t have effective coping skills, and in middle school, who has effective coping skills? Nobody. The intensity of the emotion is so high that the brain goes into crisis mode, fight or flight. (Kerri Toole)

Don’t be afraid to ask your child if they self-harm

It can be terrifying, but if you suspect that something is happening, then you need to ask them about it.

Enquire with compassion, and let them know that you truly are there to support them.

Asking them about it does not raise the risk of it happening. It actually decreases the risk of those behaviors happening. (Kerri Toole)

Happy chemicals are also pain-killers

The classic and well-known endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, are not only happy chemicals but also painkillers.

Self-harming will not make someone happier, but it will feel like it helps them to dull the other pain and regulate how they feel.

You do the best that you can with what you’ve got

Every person – even though it might not look like it – is doing the best that they can with what they have got. They may have learned coping skills and life lessons from their parents, friends, peers, or social media. They do what they know, even if it hurts.

Luckily, you always have the option to learn. You can learn how to do things another way, and make a profound and genuine change.

Highly sensitive people

Being highly sensitive is a genetic trait.

Highly sensitive people often feel and experience life more deeply, and because not everyone is like it, they can feel alone and misunderstood, or not taken seriously.

These are fundamental biological factors, and I’m so glad that I learned DBT before I was a parent because I’m a high sensitivity person, I see myself in this, and since my kids were born I’ve been talking with them about what it’s like to have sensitivity for emotions and how to self-validate which is the key to all these behaviors. (Kerri Toole)

You have to be mindful of how you interact with and speak too highly sensitive kids.
Saying something like, “You should be happy”, can cause emotional turmoil by inadvertently teaching them to question or downplay their internal experience.

The best thing that you can do is to take care of your emotions, learn how to properly regulate yourself, and then you will be able to hold the space for your kids that they need while they learn to take care of their own emotions.

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Meet Veronica Cisneros

Veronica Cisneros | Empowered And Unapologetic PodcastI’m a licensed therapist and women walk into my office every day stressed and disconnected. As a mom of three daughters, I want my girls to know who they are and feel confident about their future. I can’t think of a better way to help other women than by demonstrating an empowered and unapologetic life.

So I started  Empowered and Unapologetic to be a safe space for women to be vulnerable and change their lives for the better before she ever needs to see a therapist.

Whether you listen to the podcast, join the free Facebook communityjoin the VIP community, or attend our annual retreat,  you’re in the right place. Let’s do this together!

Thanks for listening!

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