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Psychology: ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership PhD Collaborative Studentship ‘Tuning into your Body to Manage Self-harm: Conceptualisation and Test of a Novel Treatment Paradigm’

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, February 03, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Swansea University, supported by the ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership for Wales (Wales DTP), invites applications for funded PhD study, available to start in October 2020. The following collaborative studentship is available in the Psychology Pathway of the Wales DTP:

‘Tuning into your Body to Manage Self-harm: Conceptualisation and Test of a Novel Treatment Paradigm’ (working title) in collaboration with Dechrau Newydd, Swansea Bay University Health Board


Self-harm is a serious public health issue. However, precipitating factors remain poorly understood and treatment is difficult. Emotion regulation is one of the main reasons self-harm. However, an unmet challenge has been to explain how a painful stimulus like NSSI improves affect. To improve treatment outcomes a mechanistic understanding is required.

Pilot work involving DN partners has developed a novel theoretical framework - the Interoceptive Self-efficacy Hypothesis of Self-harm (Young et al 2019). Accordingly, self-harm compensates for difficulties in anticipating and interpreting bodily signals associated with emotion. Linked to autonomic changes accompanying emotion are expectations about their sensory consequences. When sensation is unpredictable ‘somatic illusions’ (a mismatch between perceived and actual bodily changes), negative affect and an enduring sense of dysregulation results. Our data suggest self-harm reduces unwanted emotions because the sensory consequences of NSSI are expected. Thus, an unexplored avenue for treatment is to develop ways for individuals to increase interoceptive certainty through non-harmful means.


The most effective available interventions are lengthy and help individuals to manage and label emotions. However, a significant hurdle is that there is no effective way to make sensations predictable, and hence change emotional state – we hypothesis that this is critical to improving outcomes.

Research Aim(s) and Question(s):

The student will co-develop and assess the efficacy and acceptability of interventions. This might include a portable device with tactile self-stimulation (already shown to reliably alter afferent signalling) and / or additional approaches consistent with the model e.g. biofeedback.

Anticipated work packages:

WP1 – A qualitative investigation will engage the expertise of consultants in Wales with experience of self-harm and ‘experts by experience’ to evaluate potential needs, preferences, barriers and enablers of the proposed interventions. These data will inform WP2.

WP2 – Those seeking treatment for self-harm will be randomised to an enhanced treatment (experimental plus usual) or usual treatment. Measures will include real-time changes in affect and sensation (ecological momentary sampling and psychophysiology), nature and frequency of self-harm episodes. Qualitative interviews will assess impact on quality of life, treatment satisfaction, and establish mechanisms of change.

Continuous dialogue between DN and SU partners will facilitate the refinement of intervention techniques.

Research output:

- Future treatment within DN will be informed and the relationship with SU consolidated.
- High quality publications (e.g., our recent work in Proc R Soc Lond [Biol]).

Student benefits:

- Creative input into study and intervention design.
- Training in methodologies (e.g., systematic reviewing, statistical modelling, ecological sampling, GSR, ECG).
- Dissemination skills (e.g., presentation at research/interest groups/conferences and academic writing).

Residential eligibility:

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. You must:

- be ordinarily resident in the UK, meaning there are no restrictions on how long you can stay, and
- have been ’ordinarily resident’ in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of the studentship grant. This means you must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences), and
- not have been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK nationals and EU nationals who were ordinarily resident in the EU immediately before the period of full-time education).

Due to funding restrictions, these scholarships are not open to international candidates.

Academic eligibility:

ESRC studentships are highly competitive. Candidates should have an excellent background in the social sciences, holding a 1st or upper 2nd class degree; applications from those also holding a relevant research training Master’s degree (or an equivalent background in research training) will be considered for a ‘+3’ award.


Full-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold either a full-time job, or a permanent part-time job, during the period of their award. Part-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold a full-time job.

Funding Notes

The studentship provides the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend. There will be additional funds available for research expenses.

Studentship awards commence in October 2020 and will cover your tuition fees as well as a maintenance grant (currently £15,009 per annum for 2019/20 for full-time students, updated each year) and includes access to an additional Research Training Support Grant (RTSG). There are other opportunities and benefits available to studentship holders, including an overseas fieldwork allowance (if applicable), internship opportunities, oversea institutional visits and other small grants.

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