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Exploring Therapeutic Risk in the Recovery Process of Adolescents at Risk of Self-harm: A Thematic Analysis of Support Staff Perceptions

Author(s):

Tomos Redmond*   Pages 1 - 17 ( 17 )

Abstract:


Background and objective: The high prevalence of adolescent self-harm within mental health services presents considerable management concerns, exacerbated by a lack of clear evidence regarding therapeutically effective approaches. This shortfall perpetuates traditional risk-adverse practice, despite likely inadequacies in mitigating self-harm through failing to address underlying psychological mechanisms. Therapeutic risk, defined as an approach whereby clinicians support individual risk-taking, may be an alternative that yields improved recovery outcomes. However, related research is adult-focussed and provides limited detail on its features, practical delivery and impact on recovery. Consequently, the current study explored the experiences of professionals delivering a therapeutic risk ethos, including their conceptualisation of it and its impact on young people.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven mental health support workers employed by a residential healthcare provider that promotes a therapeutic risk approach. The provider supported service users aged 15 - 20 experiencing complex psychopathology who, following inpatient discharge, presented high risk of self-harm and suicidality. Interview data was thematically analysed.

Discussion and Conclusion: Staff participants provided their understanding of a therapeutic risk approach; suggesting risk is viewed as positive and beneficial to recovery, alongside the promotion of service user freedom and flexible therapeutic risk management. They perceived therapeutic risk incorporates both permission and support, which facilitates the exploration of underlying feelings and alternative actions. Additionally, therapeutic risk promotes positive recovery outcomes due to empowered service users having increased control over their lives. They argued this can reduce psychological distress, encouraging the development of emotional regulation and adaptive coping strategies.

Keywords:

Therapeutic risk, adolescent development, self-harm, suicide, emotional development, risk management, residential mental health services

Affiliation:

Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester



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