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National study to help young people overcome self harm

22 January 2009

Each year, hundreds of young people deliberately hurt themselves; this month sees the launch of a major new study SHIFT (Self Harm Intervention, Family Therapy) involving three key university centres: Leeds, Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and Manchester as well as 15 NHS organisations that will examine the best techniques for preventing young people from self-harming again.

 This £4.5m study, led by Professor David Cottrell, the Dean of Medicine at the University of Leeds and NHS Leeds, also involves two other teams under the leadership of investigators Dr Ivan Eisler at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and Professor Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester.  The principal aim of the study is to establish whether family therapy is an effective intervention for these young people. 

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) programme, the project will work with more than 800 young people and their families.

Dr Ivan Eisler who is the lead investigator for the project in London commented 'This is a hugely important study which will provide a much needed evidence base for developing effective treatment provisions. Several smaller studies point to family therapy as an effective treatment in adolescent self-harm but the fact is that we don’t really know what works best. We are extremely pleased that the NIHR HTA programme has agreed to fund a study of this scale. This is going to be one the largest studies of family therapy or indeed any other psychological treatment ever to be conducted in the UK. Through this study we’ll be looking at whether the “whole family” approach, which focuses on the relationships, roles and communication patterns between family members, will enable families to work with young people to help them manage crises and emotional situations more effectively.' 

The London part of the trial which will recruit patients from seven South East London Boroughs and six boroughs in North London will be co-ordinated by Dr Ivan Eisler, Dr Mima Simic from SLAM (South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) and Dr Robert Senior from the Tavistock Clinic.  The therapy will be delivered by qualified family therapists using the Leeds Family Therapy & Research Centre Systemic Family Therapy Manual adapted for use in the self-harm population.  The study aims to give agencies involved in the care of young people a clear, evidence-based guide about the effectiveness of this intervention in reducing further episodes of self-harm.  

Participants in the seven year trial will be 11 - 17 year olds who have self-harmed more than once and have required hospital admission for their injuries – though those diagnosed with severe depression or other serious mental illness will not be asked to take part.  It is hoped that the results of the trial, which begins in early 2009, will inform the development of consistent, safe and effective services for young people who self-harm across the UK.

 Professor David Cottrell, Lead Investigator at the University of Leeds added: 'It’s about helping young people to deal with their distress – and giving them the mechanisms for coping in a better way than self-harm.'


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