The Psychology of Self-Injury: Exploring Self-Harm & Mental Health

Self-Injury in Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD), with Caroline Roberts

Episode Summary

Caroline Roberts from the University of Minnesota bridges the conversation gap between self-injurious behavior (SIB) and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), including self-harm among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Episode Notes

Up to 1 in 5 (20%) individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and about 3 in 7 (42%) individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) engage in self-injurious behavior (SIB). Common forms of SIB include repetitive head banging, head-hitting, self-biting, self-hitting, eye-poking, skin-picking, and trichotillomania (hair pulling), among other forms of self-harm.

In this episode, Caroline Roberts from the University of Minnesota and Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain discusses the differences and similarities between SIB and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) and how we can bridge the gap between NSSI research and clinical practice, and SIB among those with IDD. She also shares 4 key topics from her interviews with experts in SIB and NSSI: (1) case ascertainment, (2) perceptions of causal variables, (3) pathways to treatment, and (4) treatment goals and outcomes. 

Learn more about the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain and their interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and improving SIB workgroup here. Follow Caroline on Twitter/X at @clrobz. Below are one of her papers and other research referenced in today's episode:

  1. Roberts, C. L., Avina, A. H., & Symons, F. J. (2023). A qualitative analysis of family caregiver experiences accessing treatment for self-injurious behavior in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities.
  2. Dimian, A. F., & Symons, F. J. (2022). A systematic review of risk for the development and  persistence of self-injurious behavior in intellectual and developmental disabilities. Clinical Psychology Review, 94, 102158.
  3. Steenfeldt-Kristensen, C., Jones, C. A., & Richards, C. (2020). The prevalence of self-injurious behaviour in autism: A meta-analytic study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50(11), 3857-3873.

Follow Dr. Westers on Instagram and Twitter/X (@DocWesters). To join ISSS, visit and follow ISSS on Facebook and Twitter/X (@ITripleS).

The Psychology of Self-Injury podcast has been rated #1 by Feedspot  in their list of "10 Best Self Harm Podcasts" and #5 in their "20 Best Clinical Psychology Podcasts." It has also been featured in Audible's "Best Mental Health Podcasts to Defy Stigma and Begin to Heal."

If you or someone you know should be interviewed on the podcast, we want to know! Please fill out this form, and we will be in touch with more details if it’s a good fit.