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A drug counselor is with a traumatized woman who has experienced domestic violence during a seeking safety individual drug counseling session.

Seeking Safety Therapy is an evidence-based treatment program that aims to increase safety in individuals who have experienced trauma and substance abuse.

Developed by Lisa Najavits in 1992, this trauma-focused therapy model focuses on helping clients attain safety in their relationships, thinking, behavior, and emotions without directly exploring their traumatic experiences.

Developed by Najavits, Seeking Safety is also a group therapy approach that focuses on fostering resilience and teaching coping skills for managing trauma-related symptoms.

This comprehensive guide will dive into the principles and techniques of Seeking Safety Therapy, its benefits, and how it can help individuals heal.


What is Seeking Safety Therapy?


Seeking Safety therapy was specifically designed to address trauma and substance abuse simultaneously, offering a safe and effective treatment approach for individuals struggling with these co-occurring issues.

Unlike traditional therapy models that require individuals to explore their trauma narratives directly,

Seeking Safety therapy does not necessitate a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or substance abuse to benefit from the program.

The primary goal of Seeking Safety Therapy is to equip participants with safe coping skills that are relevant to both trauma and addiction.


The Key Principles of Seeking Safety


Seeking Safety therapy is built upon critical principles that guide the treatment process:

1. Safety as the overarching goal:

The primary objective of Seeking Safety Therapy is to help clients attain safety in their relationships, thinking, behavior, and emotions.


2. Integrated treatment:

Seeking Safety therapy addresses both trauma and substance use concurrently, recognizing the vital link between PTSD and problematic substance use.


3. Focusing on ideals:

The program emphasizes the importance of ideals to counteract the loss of ideals associated with trauma and addiction.

Individuals can regain a sense of purpose and direction by exploring and reinforcing positive values.


4. Four content areas:

Seeking Safety therapy covers four main content areas

  • cognitive,
  • behavioral,
  • interpersonal, and
  • case management.

These areas provide a comprehensive framework for addressing the complex issues related to trauma and addiction.


5. Attention to clinician processes:

Seeking Safety therapy recognizes the importance of clinician self-care and emotional well-being.

By addressing countertransference and other clinician-related factors, therapists can provide the best possible care for their clients.

A man is coming to terms with his PTSD during a  drug counseling seeking safety  therapy session.

The Structure of Seeking Safety Therapy


Seeking Safety therapy can be implemented in group and individual settings, depending on individual needs and preferences.

In a group setting, participants are encouraged to share their experiences and provide support and feedback to one another.

This collaborative approach fosters community and connection while promoting the learning and practice of seeking safety coping skills together.

In individual therapy sessions, clients have the opportunity to delve deeper into their unsafe behaviors and practice new coping skills at their own pace.

These one-on-one sessions allow for a more personalized treatment approach tailored to individual needs.


Trauma-Focused Therapy: Healing from the Effects of Trauma


Trauma-focused therapy is a fundamental component of Seeking Safety therapy.

Trauma can manifest in various forms, such as sexual, physical, or mental abuse, and can result in a range of emotional and physical symptoms.

Traumatic experiences can lead to feelings of guilt, anger, helplessness, anxiety, and depression.

Sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts, and severe emotional responses are also common symptoms of trauma.


Understanding the Impact of Trauma

Trauma-focused therapy aims to help individuals understand the impact of trauma on their lives and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage the resulting symptoms.

By utilizing cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, trauma-focused therapy helps individuals shift harmful thought patterns and behaviors related to their traumatic experiences.

This therapeutic approach also emphasizes building self-compassion and self-care as clients learn and practice seeking safety coping skills.


The Journey to Safety and Healing


In trauma-focused therapy, the primary focus is on ensuring the safety of the individual.

It is crucial to recognize that what may appear as maladaptive behavior was, at one point, a coping mechanism or a way to feel safer in response to the trauma.

Through trauma-focused therapy, individuals are guided to identify safe and healthy ways to manage their symptoms, ultimately facilitating the healing process.


Seeking Safety Coping Skills: Building a Foundation for Recovery


The core of Seeking Safety therapy lies in developing and practicing safe coping skills.

Coping skills are the behaviors individuals engage in to tolerate discomfort, pain, anxiety, depression, and other challenging emotions.

Many individuals who have experienced traumatic events have resorted to unsafe coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, self-harm, or engaging in unhealthy relationships.

Seeking Safety therapy introduces new options for individuals to tolerate discomfort and distance themselves from unsafe behaviors.

These coping skills empower individuals to manage their emotional reactions and navigate their recovery journey effectively.

Let’s explore some of the key coping skills taught in Seeking Safety therapy:

1. Grounding techniques:

Grounding techniques help individuals stay present and connected to the present moment.

By focusing on their senses or engaging in specific activities, individuals can anchor themselves in the here and now, reducing the impact of traumatic memories or overwhelming emotions.

2. Self-help groups and safe community:

Seeking Safety therapy emphasizes the importance of support systems and safe communities.

Joining self-help groups or connecting with individuals with similar experiences can provide a sense of belonging, understanding, and encouragement.


3. Recovery process:

Understanding the recovery process is essential for individuals seeking to heal from trauma and addiction.

Seeking Safety therapy provides education and guidance on the stages of recovery, empowering individuals to navigate their journey with a sense of knowledge and purpose.


4. Self-care:

Self-care plays a vital role in promoting overall well-being and recovery.

Seeking Safety therapy teaches individuals the importance of self-care practices such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in activities that bring joy, and prioritizing their physical and emotional needs.


5. Identifying triggers:

Triggers are events, situations, or reminders that can evoke distressing emotions or thoughts related to trauma or addiction.

Seeking Safety therapy helps individuals identify triggers and develop strategies to manage and cope effectively.


6. Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships and protecting one’s well-being. Seeking Safety therapy teaches individuals to establish clear boundaries and assertively communicate their needs and limits.


7. Creating healing meanings:

Seeking Safety therapy encourages individuals to find meaning in their experiences and develop a positive narrative around their healing journey. Individuals can foster a sense of empowerment and hope by reframing their experiences and focusing on growth and resilience.


8. Relapse prevention planning:

Relapse prevention planning is an essential aspect of Seeking Safety therapy for individuals struggling with both trauma and addiction.

By identifying potential triggers, developing coping strategies, and creating a support network, individuals can minimize the risk of relapse and maintain their progress in recovery.

A man is coming to terms with his PTSD during a  drug counseling seeking safety  therapy session.

The Link Between PTSD and Substance Abuse


Research has shown a significant correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse.

Many individuals who have experienced trauma also struggle with problematic substance use as a way to cope with their distressing symptoms.

Studies indicate that approximately 80% of individuals with PTSD also have co-occurring substance abuse issues.


Addressing Trauma and Substance Abuse Simultaneously

Seeking Safety therapy recognizes the intricate relationship between PTSD and substance abuse and addresses both issues simultaneously.

By integrating treatment for trauma and substance abuse, individuals can gain greater control over their substance use disorders and manage the intrusive symptoms of PTSD more effectively.

Seeking Safety therapy provides a comprehensive approach to healing, focusing on the underlying causes of addiction while addressing the impact of trauma on an individual’s well-being.


The Seeking Safety Model: A Structured Path to Recovery


The Seeking Safety therapy program follows a structured model that can be adapted to individual or group therapy sessions.

Each session begins with a check-in, assessing the client’s current state and any unsafe behaviors or positive coping strategies experienced since the previous session.

I have also reviewed the community resources used during this time.

A relevant quote is presented to initiate the session and set the tone for the topic.

The program consists of 25 topics, each covering a specific coping skill applicable to trauma and substance abuse.

These topics are categorized into cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and case management areas, providing a comprehensive framework for addressing the complexities of trauma and addiction.

Participants are provided with worksheets and handouts relevant to the topic, facilitating discussion and processing of the material.

At the end of each session, clients are encouraged to check out and commit to implementing the skills learned during the upcoming week or until the next session.

If additional community resources are needed, therapists make them available to the participants.

Therapists utilizing the Seeking Safety model have the flexibility to assess which topics are most relevant to the individual or group’s needs and can adapt the program accordingly.

Topics can be extended over several sessions if needed, ensuring the treatment is tailored to each individual’s progress and specific requirements.


The Effectiveness of Seeking Safety Therapy


Seeking Safety therapy has received strong empirical support for its effectiveness in addressing trauma and substance abuse.

Endorsed by numerous professional societies, this evidence-based program continues to be studied and implemented as its applications grow.

Research studies have demonstrated positive outcomes in various populations, including incarcerated women with substance use disorders and PTSD, adolescent girls with co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse, and women with co-occurring disorders.

The success of Seeking Safety therapy lies in its ability to provide a safe and structured path to recovery, focusing on empowering individuals to attain safety and develop healthy coping skills.

By addressing the underlying issues of trauma and addiction simultaneously, individuals can experience significant improvements in their overall well-being and quality of life.


Additional Information:

Seeking Safety Therapy is known for its flexibility and adaptability, allowing therapists to tailor the treatment to the unique needs of each individual or group.

This personalized approach ensures that participants receive the most effective and relevant care for their circumstances and experiences.

A women is processing her PTSD during a  drug counseling seeking safety  therapy session.


In our pursuit of understanding and healing, Seeking Safety Therapy stands as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path for countless individuals grappling with the intertwined challenges of trauma and substance abuse.

Grounded in evidence, compassion, and a deep understanding of human experience, this therapeutic approach prioritizes safety, ensuring that every person can reclaim a sense of security and purpose.

It reminds us that while trauma may leave its indelible mark, the human spirit possesses an innate resilience.

Through the principles and techniques outlined in Seeking Safety, individuals are empowered to rediscover their ideals, reconnect with their inner strength, and embark on a transformative journey toward healing.

For everyone touched by the powerful narrative of trauma and addiction, know this: Seeking Safety Therapy offers more than just tools and techniques—it provides a holistic vision of hope, renewal, and the unyielding promise of a brighter, more secure tomorrow.

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