Background:Differing perspectives of self-harm may result in a struggle between patients and treatment staff. As a consequence, both sides have difficulty communicating effectively about the underlying problems and feelings surrounding self-harm. Between 2009 and 2011, a programme was developed and implemented to train mental health care staff (nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and occupational therapists) in how to communicate effectively with and care for patients who self-harm. An art exhibition focusing on self-harm supported the programme. Lay experts in self-harm, i.e. people who currently harm themselves, or who have harmed themselves in the past and have the skills to disseminate their knowledge and experience, played an important role throughout the programme.Methods:Paired sample t-tests were conducted to measure the effects of the training programme using the Attitude Towards Deliberate Self-Harm Questionnaire, the Self-Perceived Efficacy in Dealing with Self-Harm Questionnaire, and the Patient Contact Questionnaire. Effect sizes were calculated using r. Participants evaluated the training programme with the help of a survey. The questionnaires used in the survey were analysed descriptively.Results:Of the 281 persons who followed the training programme, 178 completed the questionnaires. The results show a significant increase in the total scores of the three questionnaires, with large to moderate effect sizes. Respondents were positive about the training, especially about the role of the lay expert.Conclusion:A specialised training programme in how to care for patients who self-harm can result in a more positive attitude towards self-harm patients, an improved self-efficacy in caring for patients who self-harm, and a greater closeness with the patients. The deployment of lay experts is essential here. © 2014 Kool et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.