Safety Seeking Therapy: A New Treatment for Addictions

Addictions are common among individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. This combination complicates any interventions. Safety Seeking therapy has been developed for these conditions. Find out about it here.
Safety Seeking Therapy: A New Treatment for Addictions

Last update: 03 December, 2022

Why are addictions more frequent in individuals who suffer from mental disorders? One of the theories that have tried to explain the reason for this link is the self-medication hypothesis. It proposes that people with negative emotional experiences ingest substances in order to self-regulate. However, if this is true, how can therapists intervene in these cases? In this regard, we’re going to talk about Safety Seeking therapy.

Lisa M. Najavits, MD, is the driving force behind this therapy. She’s also one of the leaders in a movement that dedicates its efforts to refining interventions in trauma and addiction settings. Safety Seeking therapy is a cognitive-behavioral intervention that focuses on the present moment of the individual.

man doing therapy
Navajit’s Safety Seeking therapy focuses more on the potential of the individual than their pathology.

Safety Seeking therapy

This therapy is a recommended intervention for patients diagnosed with PTSD, substance abuse, or other types of addictive behaviors. It can be carried out both individually and in groups. The model proposed by Najavits is made up of three stages: safety, mourning, and reconnection.

In all therapy, the search for safety is prioritized. Indeed, although the influence of trauma on an individual is taken into account, delving into the past of their distressing history is avoided. The objective isn’t to merely make a compilation of past events but to focus on re-establishing the goals that patients have lost or postponed as a result of substance use.

The role of the therapist is to display a compassionate attitude toward the patient’s experience. In addition, they promote behaviors that encourage them to control their recovery process. During therapy, special care is taken to generate practical solutions. Tasks are prescribed and the objective is for the patient to practice what they’ve learned.

1. Elements

Safety Seeking therapy is compatible with all therapy models that focus on reducing harm and risk from suicidal behaviors. It takes into account both suicidal behavior and self-harm. Moreover, it promotes coping skills to manage high-intensity emotions.

Self-care skills are critical. Those that are promoted in therapy are related to medical, physical, emotional, and behavioral self-care. The goal is for patients to become responsible for their own recovery. The therapy also addresses relationships with toxic people, in which domestic violence is framed.

The aim is to increase the patient’s sense of control and, with it, their ability to consciously influence what happens to them. This means they can cope better with dissociation symptoms and flashbacks.

2. Process

As the sessions progress, patients develop different skills, while reaffirming their commitment to continue practicing and generalizing them to other contexts. In this sense, special attention is paid to reinforcing the safety plan to prevent suicidal behavior and self-harm, as well as behaviors related to requesting help. It’s useful to use a Contract for Safety in emergencies.

During the session, the patients think and reflect on the commitments they’re acquiring and the results they’re obtaining by fulfilling them. The objective is to promote their sense of self-efficacy through the reinforcement of achievements. At the same time, they raise new commitments for the future.

A frequent technique in this therapeutic context is grounding. It consists of developing the ability to connect to the earth in the present moment. It’s used to help patients calm down and disconnect from painful and self-destructive impulses.

“The motto of Safety Seeking therapy is ’empowering people to have confidence and the belief that their lives can be better, with safety and hope being central aspects of recovery.”


man in therapy
The most nuclear aspects of treatment are self-respect, using coping and not drugs to overcome pain, building a better present and future than the past, learning to trust, taking care of the body, and asking for help from healthy people.

3. Results

Research on the efficacy of the therapy is promising. In fact, this modality of intervention has managed to improve the post-traumatic symptoms of patients. However, no significant improvements have been reported in the consumption of certain substances such as alcohol. Of course, further investigation is necessary for this field because, currently, studies are scarce and far from conclusive.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Santiago-Castro, M. L. (2019). Adicción desde la hipótesis de la automedicación emocional: Una revisión.
    • Pedrero, F. E. (2020). Manual de Tratamientos Psicológicos. Pirámide.
    • Gálvez-Lara, M., Corpas, J., Velasco, J., & Moriana, J. A. (2019). El conocimiento y el uso en la práctica clínica de los tratamientos psicológicos basados en la evidencia. Clínica y Salud, 30(3), 115-122.
    • Najavits, L. M. (2007). Psychosocial treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.