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Season 3 | Episode 35

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Season 3 | Episode 35

The Neurobiology of Self-Injury (in Layman's Terms)

Mar 31, 2023

with Dr. Michael Kaess

The Neurobiology of Self-Injury (in Layman's Terms)with Dr. Michael Kaess
00:00 / 01:04

What goes on at the neurobiological level that makes someone more vulnerable to self-injure or self-harm? What biological risk factors are at play? What roles do the vagus nerve, cortisol levels, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis have? We hope to discuss the psychology of self-injury pain in a future episode, but in this episode, Dr. Michael Kaess from the University of Bern in Switzerland explains the neurobiology of self-injury in simple terms, or what we hope can be considered simple layman's terms. 

Learn more about Dr. Kaess and his research team at the Universitäre Psychiatrische Dienste (UPD) in Bern here. To participate in Dr. Kaess' research study of an online intervention for self-injury (in German), visit the STAR (Self-injury Treatment Assessment Recovery) Project at

Below are links to some of the research referenced in this episode:

  1. Kaess, M., Hooley, J. M., Klimes-Dougan, B., Koenig, J., Plener, P. L., Reichl, C., Robinson, K., Schmahl, C., Sicorello, M., Schreiner, M. W., & Cullen, K. R. (2021). Advancing a temporal framework for understanding the biology of nonsuicidal self-injury: An expert review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 130, 228-239.

  2. Reichl, C., Heyer, A., Brunner, R., Parzer, P., Völker, J. M., Resch, R., & Kaess, M. (2016). Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, childhood adversity and adolescent nonsuicidal self-injury. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 74, 203-211.

  3. Plener, P. L., Bubalo, N., Fladung, A. K., Ludolph, A. G., & Lulé, D. (2012). Prone to excitement: Adolescent females with non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) show altered cortical pattern to emotional and NSS-related material.Psychiatry Research, 203(2-3), 146-152.

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

The Psychology of Self-Injury podcast has been rated #5 by Feedspot in their "Best 20 Clinical Psychology Podcasts" and by Welp Magazine in their "20 Best Injury Podcasts."

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