Dear Dr. Norquist:
I just learned that my daughter may be cutting herself, along with forcing herself to vomit. She is a 12-year-old girl who is very active in cheerleading and softball, as well as educational programs in school. Today I was notified by the school counselor of these things that my daughter has been doing. I am really at a loss for words because I never saw this coming. What should be my first step in getting my daughter help? Thank you.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Thank you for reaching out for advice regarding your daughter. I’m sorry I was on vacation when your letter arrived. Cutting is usually a symptom of emotionally painful and overwhelming feelings that the cutter is unable to process in other ways. The cutting is a means of doing something about the emotional pain. Experiencing the emotional pain on a physical level can feel like a release. It also provokes the release of endorphins (the body’s feel-good hormone). Forced vomiting, as you probably know, is a symptom of a body-image disorder. Unfortunately, both of these behaviors are much more common among adolescent girls than they were 15 or 20 years ago.
It is clear that your daughter is crying out for help. My suggestion is that you consult with her pediatrician, as well as looking for an appropriate psychotherapist for her. Ideally she needs a therapist who specializes in adolescents, has plenty of experience with cutting and purging, and with whom your daughter feels comfortable. Your pediatrician may have some recommendations for you. You could also check with High Focus, a New Jersey-based psychiatric program that serves adolescents http://www.highfocuscenters.com (see adolescent psychiatric services program). Thank you for being there for her.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services