Treatment for Substance Abuse and PTSD
Get help and feel better without having to relive the trauma
Recovery from addiction can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but for some people, it is made even more challenging by the combination of two problems that are intertwined or exacerbate each other: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. However, a treatment model called Seeking Safety, usually offered in group treatment but sometimes used in individual therapy, has proven itself effective at helping people with both problems.
What is Seeking Safety?
Seeking Safety was developed by psychologist Lisa Najavits in 1992 and has been widely used and researched since that time. As a therapist specializing in addiction treatment, I have used Seeking Safety groups with a variety of clients in various settings, with good results and feedback from clients.
More specifically, Seeking Safety is a present-focused treatment model that combines education about substance abuse and trauma, the teaching and practicing of recovery skills, and case management and problem solving. When conducted as group treatment, it can also provide peer support along with professional help. It covers 25 recovery topics and can be used as either short-term or long-term treatment.
Who is likely to benefit from Seeking Safety?
Although Seeking Safety was specifically designed to meet the treatment needs of adults struggling with both substance abuse and PTSD, it also has been used effectively as a general model to teach coping skills. You should consider it as a treatment option for you or a loved one if you or your loved one is struggling with some form of post-trauma difficulties (whether or not you meet the full criteria for PTSD) and some kind of substance-abuse issue (whether or not you meet the full diagnostic criteria for a substance-abuse disorder). If you are struggling after a traumatic experience with problems such as nightmares, startling easily, or using substances to avoid thoughts or feelings about the experience, this might be a good treatment for you. The Seeking Safety model focuses on skill building and present-day safety, and will not require you to discuss traumatic experiences. In its group format, it may be especially valuable for individuals who, like many Solo Moms, are relatively isolated and benefit from the social support that goes along with the treatment itself.
What are the benefits of Seeking Safety?
I have run Seeking Safety groups in a variety of correctional, addiction, and mental-health treatment settings. My experience has been that clients like the balance between personal sharing and education about trauma, substance abuse, recovery, and self-care. Many also have said they benefit from and enjoy the weekly check-in process, which includes reporting on recent difficulties and successes, and the fact that each topic is introduced by a quote and a discussion of the quote. And there is a treatment manual that provides information and material so clients can access and review it in between sessions.
Seeking Safety has been around for decades, but when I’ve suggested it to clients, many had not heard of it and were not aware it was a treatment option. If you are interested in learning more about this treatment model and finding out whether it might be a good fit for you or someone you love, you can learn more on the Seeking Safety website.
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Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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