If you’re trying to help a young person overcome their self-harm, it can be helpful to have a plan in place. This doesn’t need to be long-winded or overly technical, but really just a way to help you to solidify your aims, decide what you’re going to do and to make sure that all the appropriate people are kept in the loop. You can download a basic form, or view it below, which you can use (and expect to revisit it several times for each young person you work with) I’ve explained briefly below what I think you should consider when completing the form.
What is your aim?
Consider your key concerns and what you hope to achieve. You might be hoping to get a young person to make an initial disclosure, or to support them in reducing the frequency of their self-harm. Have a clear aim and don’t try to achieve too much with each plan. You can always start the process again when things move on.
It can also be helpful to think about what might happen if you don’t put support in place in order to work out what your key aim is. When you think about it that way, you might find that your key aim is to keep a young person in school for example.
How will you measure success and track progress?
Think about what will be different if you succeed with your aim, or are making progress towards it. What changes in behaviour might you be able to see and how might you measure them? It might be that a young person willingly engages in a supportive conversation for 15 minutes, or that they manage to go without harming for 24 hours. It will be different for each individual so you need to tailor the plan to their situation.
It’s important to track progress, otherwise both we, and the person we’re working with, can feel like they’re not making any progress. This is just as important for parents as for teachers and staff at other organisations. Parents might choose to keep a journal rather than formal records, but it will still be an important chart of progress. Consider what information you should record and how you might chart progress – you might consider including information about school absence, frequency of harming behaviour or where the young person reports themselves to be on an anxiety scale (where 1 = completely calm and 10 = so anxious that they cannot continue with daily activities).
What can you do?
Again, with the specific young person in mind, think carefully about exactly what you’ll do in order to support them. There is lots you can do, from organising a bolt hole for them at school to go to if they feel anxious, to discussing alternative behaviours they can carry out when they feel a need to harm, to organising regular times to sit down and offer face to face support, to encouraging a young person to keep a journal.
Things you need to consider specifically when planning what to do include:
- What – what activities will help you to achieve your aim. Consider whether you have access to the resources required, and if not, how you might overcome this hurdle.
- Who – who else might you need to involve or inform about your plan?
- When – when do you hope to get started? How long do you think it will take to achieve your aim? Are there any specific time frames you need to work around e.g upcoming holidays or exams? Think carefully about whether you are being realistic in your time planning. Overcoming self-harm is not usually a quick win.
Developing a feedback loop
Be sure to revisit your plan regularly and to allow it to evolve to reflect what is and isn’t working. Consider:
- What is working well? Why?
- What has worked less well? Why?
- What could you do differently or better?
Think about the best questions to consider and the frequency with which you should revisit and revise your plan, and stick to it. Young people’s needs can change quite rapidly as they enter recovery and someone who could not manage without an hour long chat every three days one month, may respond better to regular five minute catch-ups the next.
Think also about whether there is anyone you should be sharing this information with:
- What do you need to share?
- Who will you share it with?
- How frequently will you share the information? And
- In what format will you share it?
When writing an action plan, the key thing is to ensure that it is an evolving and useful tool. It should be a basic document that helps to solidify your ideas and keep you on track. You should never be afraid to update or adapt it and if it’s not working, never worry about starting again.
If you would like extra help on this topic, Pooky can run a workshop for students, parents or teachers at your school or organisation. Pooky regularly runs workshops on a wide range of mental health and emotional well-being issues. There is more information here or you can fill out an enquiry form or email Pooky – firstname.lastname@example.org.