Seeking Safety is a program developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to assist people coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder. PTSD can complicate recovery if not treated, so Everlast Recovery Centers has implemented Seeking Safety into our residential program to help our clients recover successfully. Seeking Safety addresses the specific needs of clients in treatment who are diagnosed with PTSD and a substance use disorder. However, the treatment can also help clients who do not have a PTSD diagnosis but have other risk factors for relapse.
What Is Seeking Safety?
Developed with a grant from NIDA, Seeking Safety began as a program for women with PTSD and substance use disorder. Today, therapists use it with many other populations that may have experienced trauma.
Traditional psychotherapy might ask a person to discuss their trauma in-depth, experiencing and dealing with the powerful emotions that may arise. However, Seeking Safety focuses on the present moment and avoids spending time revisiting painful memories. While all types of therapy focus on making sure clients feel safe and secure at all times, Seeking Safety takes this a step further. In this treatment model, clients are asked to think about what they need to feel safe in their lives right now and how to achieve it.
The model has five central ideas that guide treatment:
Treatment always focuses on the client’s safety and helps them achieve safety as a goal in every aspect of their life. Whether the person felt unsafe or hurt in the past, Seeking Safety aims for a sense of safety now and in the future.
Therapy must treat both aspects of a person’s dual diagnosis for the best recovery success. Treating both disorders simultaneously helps the client understand how they relate to each other and reduces the chance of relapse after leaving treatment.
Developing New Ideals
In an ideal world, no one would experience trauma or addiction. Living with both of these problems can destroy many of the ideals and positive thoughts a person has about the world. While the memories cannot be erased, the program stays in the present and seeks new ideals to focus on.
Four Content Areas
The program has activities and therapies in four main areas: interpersonal, behavioral, cognitive, and therapy or case management. All the activities can be used if the client has enough sessions to work on all of them.
Clinicians, including therapists, need training in Seeking Safety. They also need support. When working with challenging populations, they may need their own occasional session to help them process their feelings and stressors.
How Do We Teach Seeking Safety?
The developers of the program have written several guidebooks on how to teach Seeking Safety. The program has 25 topics and works in residential or individual treatment settings. Therapists can choose which topics will benefit the client most and use as many that fit in the available treatment window. These 25 topics fall into four categories. Some examples of topics in each category include:
Worksheets and guides can help therapists work through these 25 topics with their clients. Sometimes the therapist and client may not have time to master all of them during their time working together. In this case, the therapist can pick which ones will be the most beneficial for the individual.
Seeking Safety works in group and individual therapy or a combination of both. If a person feels like they need to explore and revisit their traumatic experiences, this will fall outside this model’s realm. Since Seeking Safety finds the pain of reliving trauma unnecessary, the therapist might discuss why they feel the need to do this and what they hope to gain from it. Focusing on a changeable present and hopeful future keeps this therapy looking forward instead of backward toward the unchangeable past.
Seeking Safety and Addiction
The developers of Seeking Safety designed it for women with PTSD and substance use disorders. Substance abuse and trauma are often diagnosed together, which is why Seeking Safety aims to help those with a dual diagnosis treat both disorders simultaneously.
However, this type of therapy treats more than addiction, but substance use disorders as part of a dual diagnosis remain one of its most prominent uses. Since treatments for PTSD do not always address substance use disorders, clients with a dual diagnosis need a treatment model that handles both issues together to best prevent relapse.
Seeking Safety in Residential Treatment
Treatment at Everlast Recovery Centers offers the perfect setting for Seeking Safety, and the model can be used in both our residential and outpatient treatment programs. This means that clients who began Seeking Safety in residential treatment can continue it in outpatient using many of the same tools and ideas.
By using Seeking Safety in residential treatment, therapists can use both group and individual settings to target each person’s needs.
Worksheets that each person has completed after an individual setting can be brought to groups to discuss. Then, the therapist can use an individual setting to address something that may have come up in a group.
Depending on the length of the residential treatment stay, clients may have time to work through many or all 25 topics in individual and group therapy. With their mental health and substance abuse diagnoses both treated, they are more likely to succeed in recovery.