Shedding Light on Non-Suicidal Self Injury, Suicidality, and the Vital Importance of Knowing the Difference
Since the 6th grade, Clinical Counselor, Non-Suicidal Self-Injury expert and prolific author Lori Vann knew from the bottom of her heart that her purpose in life was to help people. “It was just how I was raised, I suppose. The desire to help others is in my DNA. It’s undeniable,” says Vann. It was when she took an AP psychology class in high school that her passions gelled, and her illustrious career path began to take shape.
Now, Vann is internationally recognized as an expert in her field and an invaluable resource to clinicians, educators, parents and patients alike. A Licensed Professional Counselor since 2001, Vann has given nearly 100 talks on self-injury and counseled over 500 individuals with a history of self-harm. As a consultant, she has worked with other counselors on hundreds of cases. Vann’s expertise has earned her a much-deserved presence in mainstream media as a go-to for information on this and other related subjects in mental health, appearing on ABC, NBC, Univision, international magazines, and more.
As such, it’s fair to say that the expert moniker is well-earned in her case. “Lori shares our passion for working with teens, which is a highly specialized area of mental health that requires special training and education,” says Dustin Wagner, Chief Operating Officer of Paradigm Treatment Centers. “Lori contacted us because she had heard of the exemplary work we have done in the field, and we happily brought her on to conduct extensive trainings in our San Rafael and Malibu locations. She is truly an expert in the field and someone whom we are proud and honored to have in our community of mental health practitioners.”
Upon graduating high school, Lori Vann completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University, graduating Cum Laude. She went on to complete her Master of Arts in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Chapman University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Once Vann was licensed and living in Texas, she worked at a psych hospital, where she interfaced with clients experiencing a host of intense challenges, including suicidality, dissociative identity disorder, trauma and more. “In that time I was exposed to self-injurious behavior, and I was really struck by how nobody was talking about it at that time, and yet I was seeing it in multiple cases. This was around the year 2000, and I became fascinated by these behaviors, so I began collecting and spearheading my own research,” says Vann.
Vann began to note that while she was exposed to adult cases, at the time much of the research seemed to be focused on teen behaviors. Vann dove in headfirst, creating her own spreadsheets to track the behaviors she witnessed in her own clients. “I knew there were patterns happening. I felt that if I could figure those out, I could be a part of formulating the necessary education to put an end to these behaviors and really help people in need,” Vann surmises. Ultimately, what began as a professional fascination grew into a robust and rewarding career not only assisting those struggling with NSSI, but with educating and illuminating the public as to what exactly NSSI is, how to spot it, how to treat it, and importantly, how to differentiate it from suicidality. “Self-harm is still so stigmatized in our culture,” says Vann, “Youth lifetime risk for self-injury is much more likely than childhood cancer or autism combined,” she states.
With suicidality on the alarming rise among teen and young adult populations in the United States, Vann feels it is imperative now more than ever to understand where NSSI and suicidality connect and how they are different. From her own research as well as that which she has collected over the years, Vann surmises that 60% of those who self-harm also experience at least some form of suicidal ideation. Despite this, Lori Vann is adamant about one point in particular: “self-harm is NOT a suicide attempt. This is a myth and an issue that plagues not only the mental health field but the medical industry in particular,” she states.
Despite the fact that mental health clinicians and treatment facilities are becoming much more aware of NSSI and its underlying causes, Vann feels that popular media could be much more accountable when it comes to insidious messaging around self-harm as well as inaccurate or glorifying depictions that could be harmful, particularly with at-risk youth and young adult audiences. Vann also cites the trauma of emotional abuse as a profound link to NSSI, and one that is not being addressed as much as it should be. Of the 500 cases Vann has charted, she found that 70% reported a history of emotional abuse.
When asked what her hopes are for her future, Vann says, “I hope that I will have taken the decades of research and experience I’ve collected, and that I will have been able to train professionals to significantly turn the tide on self-injury and make it so that it’s just not an issue anymore.” Given Lori Vann’s dedication, impeccable expertise and devotion to her cause, we believe that it’s only a matter of time before this dream comes to fruition.