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Clin Psychol Rev. 1998 Aug;18(5):531-54.

The functions of self-mutilation.

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Saint Mary's College of Maryland, USA.


While pathological self-mutilating behavior has been clinically examined for over 65 years, and much of the literature hypothesizes some function for the behavior, there has been little attempt to integrate or differentiate between different functional ideas. This review uses six functional models extracted from the literature to organize a discussion of the multiple functions of self-mutilation, acknowledging the overdetermined nature of the behavior and attempting to understand how self-mutilation can serve multiple functions simultaneously. Contextual information about the definition, prevalence, phenomenology, patient characteristics, associated diagnoses, and associated symptoms of self-mutilation is first presented. Six functional models are then presented: the environmental model, the antisuicide model, the sexual model, the affect regulation model, the dissociation model, and the boundaries model. Support for these models in the empirical and theoretical literature is presented and treatment implications are explored.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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