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Seeking Safety Therapy

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It is primarily intended to treat those suffering from co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, but it can be used to treat those dealing with substance abuse and other forms of trauma.

Evidence has shown it is effective, and clients are often able to start putting some skills into practice after just one session. Overall, Seeking Safety can benefit those in addiction recovery.

The History of Seeking Safety Therapy

Seeking Safety (SS) came out of research in the 1990s that was conducted and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). A manual of this form of therapy was finally written in 2002.

Currently, the therapy can be conducted by both licensed and unlicensed professionals, peers, and other advocates. Seeking Safety is commonly used along with other forms of therapy during treatment for substance use disorders.

It has been proven to be effective for women who have been through trauma or abuse and have PTSD along with their substance use disorder.

Goals of Seeking Safety Therapy

Seeking safety focuses on several key factors:

  • Safety of the client is the main priority of treatment. This takes precedence over all other objectives.
  • Integrated treatment must deal with substance abuse and other co-occurring issues.
  • A focus on ideals offsets the losses experienced from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Four areas of focus are behavioral, personal development, cognitive, and interpersonal.
  • A balanced approach is used. Clinicians emphasize responsibility and give praise. They stress the importance of continued effort and self-care.

Seeking Safety focuses on the present. Therapists and others who conduct sessions of SS therapy will monitor a client’s comfort, ensuring they feel safe, particularly if they have an extensive history of trauma. Part of this focus on safety means there is an emphasis on keeping you away from substances that harm you.

The overall goal is to keep you safe in all aspects of life, and this means avoiding substance abuse.

What Are Sessions Like?

The Seeking Safety model can vary widely according to the practitioner, but clients can expect to receive a book about the treatment and handouts that pertain to sessions.

SS can be provided by a therapist on an individual basis, but it’s frequently applied in a group format.

You can expect a group leader or counselor to:

  • Focus on clients’ strengths.
  • Put less emphasis on trauma or difficult experiences.
  • Encourage additional treatment for other issues, such as co-occurring mental health disorders, legal issues, or medical problems.
  • Ensure clients understand that they can always do better.
  • Help clients analyze reasons why they used drugs as a coping mechanism.

Sessions are meant to build rapport with a therapist or facilitator. Since Seeking Safety can be used in group settings, it’s a good way to build relationships with others in recovery. You share similar struggles, and the insight you receive from them can be vital to your recovery process.

When Will I See Results?

A 2011 study from the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that most Seeking Safety patients are treated with an average of 12 to 25 sessions. The study showed that SS was effective in treating those with co-occurring substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

People who have undergone Seeking Safety therapy have consistently done well at abstaining from drugs or alcohol. SS treatments have been applied to many communities, such as the homeless, women with PTSD, teens, veterans, and the prison population. The results in each demographic have been positive.

Therapies for Addiction Treatment

Is Seeking Safety Enough on Its Own?

While Seeking Safety may be a core component of your addiction recovery treatment, it won’t be the only one. Comprehensive treatment works best, and it involves various forms of care. You can also expect to participate in these forms of treatment and support in rehab:

  • Medical detox: This is considered a crucial first step for many people who regularly abuse substances that cause withdrawal symptoms. You’ll have support and encouragement around the clock as you go through withdrawal. The chances of relapse are significantly reduced since you simply won’t have access to substances of abuse.

  • Medication management: Sometimes medications are needed during medical detox and ongoing recovery. You’ll work with a physician who specializes in addiction treatment to determine if these medications are appropriate for your situation.You may also receive prescriptions for medications that can help certain co-occurring mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or personality disorders.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of therapy is common in rehab, and it is very effective at treating the thought processes that underlie substance abuse. CBT aims to change thoughts, and by doing so, it also changes the behaviors that come from those thoughts. In addition to substance abuse, CBT is also used to treat various mental health issues.

  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): This therapy can help clients who feel indifferent about treatment. Therapists first run an assessment and go over it with the individual. Future sessions focus on the client’s motivations, so they can enhance their overall desire to change and see results in their life.MET is not meant to be a long-term therapeutic method. Usually, the client begins to feel motivated and rewarded by their ongoing sobriety, so other therapies become the focus.

  • Peer support groups: These often take the form of 12-step groups that focus on abstinence. While there is variation between different groups, most groups emphasize the following:
    • An acceptance that abuse of drugs and alcohol is chronic and not something you can control
    • An ability to surrender and acknowledge a higher power and the help of peers
    • Full involvement in meetings and other sober activitiesTraditional 12-step groups like AA and NA have a Christian background. There are various secular options, like SMART Recovery, for those uncomfortable with this association.
  • Family behavior therapy (FBT): This therapy involves family members and other important loved ones. In addition to assisting with issues related to substance abuse, a therapist will guide the entire family in discussions about abuse, unemployment, depression, maltreatment, and other issues that affect the family unit.FBT aims to restore familial relationships by helping everyone around the client change their patterns as well. The end result is a new family dynamic that supports healthier communication and relationships.

  • Multisystemic therapy (MST): This is a common therapy for adolescents. It assists in identifying and dealing with antisocial behaviors and other problematic attitudes, such as:
    • A friendly attitude toward drug use.
    • Socializing with friends who use drugs.
    • Academic and family issues.
    • MST is known to be effective in adolescents after about six months of treatments.
  • Drug monitoring: Many treatment programs conduct periodic drug testing to ensure that clients are remaining free from substance abuse. You may have your urine or saliva tested once per week. Ask your case manager if this is part of your program.

Is Seeking Safety Right for Me?

As you can see above, there are many options in addiction treatment. Your individual treatment program may include any combination of these, and you may find you benefit more from some therapies than others.

Talk to your case manager or therapist about how Seeking Safety therapy may fit into your overall treatment regime. They can help you determine if it is appropriate for your particular situation.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

Jenna Richer
Medically Reviewed by Jenna Richer, MSW, LCSW
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