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Q Our daughter cuts herself, and we don’t understand her need to do this. Can you shed some light on this disorder?

A Cutting or self-harm is baffling, and I can understand your confusion and feelings of helplessness when your daughter uses self-inflicted pain to feel better. It’s likely that your daughter will say she does not know why she feels the need to do this and will promise not to do it again. Things might settle down somewhat, but, more often than not, the cutting continues.

The reasons for self-harm are complex and varied. It occurs most often in teens and young adults, and more often in girls than boys. Most often it relates to the inability of a young person to cope with intense feelings. If there are no proper outlets for those feelings, or if tender feelings are seen as weak or bad in a family or school culture that is often competitive and success-oriented, then the temptation for some teens is to begin to live a life of pretense.

A young person can also be hiding overwhelmingly bad feelings related to some trauma, such as the death of a parent, sibling, or friend; a failed relationship; or the hidden experience of childhood abuse. This is something to explore with the help of a professional family counselor.

Your daughter needs a therapist she can learn to trust, and who will help her explore what is at the root of her disorder. This takes regular (weekly) therapy for at least a year, and possibly longer.

At its basic level, cutting brings immediate relief from stress, anxiety, and other psychic pain. The need to cut becomes addictive because it triggers relief via the brain’s opiate receptors.

In the final analysis, therapy can only work if your daughter knows she has a problem and wants to overcome it. The conquering of any addiction starts with the decision that the addictive substance or behavior is no longer an option for relief. The good news is that God knows our struggles and promises freedom when we embrace his truth, rather than the lie of quick relief that addiction holds out for us.

—Judy Cook Judy Cook is a family therapist living in Hamilton, Ontario. She is a member of Meadowlands Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ontario. You may e-mail her at All responses will be held in the strictest confidence.


QIf the media are right and I should expect to change careers/jobs at least four times in my lifetime, what does that say about God’s calling in my life? Does God keep changing his mind?

ASpeaking as someone who’s had approximately nine jobs over the course of my work life, I have a bird’s-eye view of the job-change thing. Some of those jobs/careers were a great fit—I knew that I was in the right place to use my gifts and talents. Other jobs ranged from mediocre to horrible; I hated the work and wasn’t good at it. In both cases, however, I can now see the Lord working to teach me his lessons in his ways.

One of the lessons I learned along the way was that I have not been designed to do all things equally well. Working with myriad minute details in exacting ways, for instance, challenges me to the core. On the other hand, I know that God has given me the gift of listening to someone’s story and discerning a path through the muddle.

There are a number of ways to go about finding innate giftedness. Get feedback from friends and family, of course. But also examine yourself: what are those things toward which you are naturally drawn, your areas of rapid learning, and activities that you eagerly anticipate doing again? And finally, career tests can offer helpful and objective feedback.

Sometimes when I speak to groups about this topic, I show two different drinking utensils: one a portable plastic bottle with a detachable top and one a delicately crafted hand-painted china cup. Both instruments were created to hold liquids, but their design and use is for different purposes. In a similar way, each of us has been uniquely crafted for God’s will and purpose.

—Bonnie Speyers Bonnie Speyers is a career counselor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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