The psychological and emotional factors relating to self-injury for young people with complex needs

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sch for Policy Studies


Beverley's proposed research holds much potential for practice related work supporting young people with complex needs, but also as a contributing to the existing literature. Her work fits within the ESRC strategic priority area of mental health, in particular the ways in which social, psychological and environment factors influence and contribute to the self-injurious behaviour of young people with complex needs. Academically, her research is likely to contribute to the growing body of work that is situating self-injury by people with a learning disability into the mainstream discourse stress and distress, rather than it being ascribed to biological functions. This presents important guidance for interventions for young people who self-injure - potentially challenging the pharmacological and behavioural interventions that are currently often prescribed, and shifting the focus onto psychological support.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1925939 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2025 Beverley Rachel Samways
Description I completed a systematic review in September 2019 which examined professionals' perceptions of people who self-harm. It systematically reviewed the research evidence
examining attitudes of professionals supporting people with and without learning disabilities who self-harm. It found thirty studies: four studies were conducted with professionals supporting people with learning disabilities, the other 27 studies were with professionals supporting people without learning disabilities. Attitudes were found to be largely sympathetic, but there was evidence of punitive and judgemental attitudes and a repeated concern raised across the sectors about inadequate training and support. Professionals supporting people with learning disabilities were found to have some attitudes that mirrored the behavioural and biological theories dominating theory and practice (that self-harm is the result of operant learning or associated with a biological condition or concern). However, they also tended to have a more relational approach, which was more reflective of the NICE (2013) recommendations. The review concluded with recommendations for adequate training for staff supporting people who self-harm; a NICE (2013) recommendation which is largely not being met. It also recommended better support and supervision for staff to increase resilience and equip them to sustain compassionate attitudes towards people who self-harm, with the appropriate resourcing to achieve this. It also concluded that professionals supporting people with learning disabilities who self-harm were found to have some differing attitudes, including a greater emphasis on relationship, recommending that these differences are worth exploring in future research.

This systematic review was presented as a poster at the Seattle Club, 2019, a conference focusing on research into Child Development and Learning Difficulties, supported by UCL.

This systematic review was also submitted to the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disability. It was rejected in December 2019, with feedback. The feedback is informing a new submission to an alternative journal.

I graduated with a MSc in Social Work Research with Distinction in December 2019. I was awarded a prize by Bristol's School of Social Policy for the best overall dissertation in the programme.
Exploitation Route The overall goal of the PhD project.

Background: For the past 50 years of research, the overall approach to self-harm has been that if a person has learning disabilities and self-harms, it is called 'self-injurious behaviour' and typically treated as a function of the person's disability or a learnt behaviour. If a person does not have learning disabilities and self-harms, it is typically considered to be rooted in emotional distress, trauma or adverse past experiences. These factors are not typically considered for people with learning disabilities.

The goal of this project is to produce research that examines the emotional factors for self-harm for people with (severe) learning disabilities, building on the small amount of research in this area. The goal is to influence policy and practice, and particularly influence the way people with learning disabilities who self-harm are thought about and supported.

To this end, I am negotiating a placement with Respond, an organisation which adopts a trauma-informed approach to supporting people with learning disabilities who have experienced trauma and abuse.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice