Seeking Safety Coping Skills 

The primary goal of Seeking Safety therapy is to increase safe coping skills an individual may use to reduce the dangerous behavior related to symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Substance Abuse. All skills provided in the Seeking Safety model are applicable to someone who has experienced trauma and/or Substance Abuse. In general, the coping skills presented as part of the Seeking Safety Model can be used across a wide variety of concerns including depression, anxiety, mania, psychosis, panic attacks, grief, etc. The skills presented are categorized as cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, or case management.

When considering building coping skills it is important to think of these skills as tools one might keep in a tool belt. As a good craftsman would have all the tools he might need in close proximity as he works on a particular project, so it is important to have many coping skills available and ready for use. Even without having experienced a traumatic event or substance abuse problem, everyone should have some coping skills in their back pocket to help manage the sadness, stress, and pressures that arise as a part of everyday life. You probably already use some coping skills without actually calling them “coping skills. “ These might be things like calling a trusted friend after a stressful day, taking several deep breaths as you wait for the doctor to come back with your test results, or meeting with a therapist during a crisis.  Many people also use coping skills that are unsafe. Unsafe coping skills might include having more drinks than you should after a stressful day, using a substance to feel more comfortable in a social setting, cutting yourself to numb emotional pain, or acting on impulse.

Seeking Safety is a trauma focused therapy modality and as such, focuses on the premise that many of the ways an individual responds to something is based on a pattern of behavior that has at some point been helpful for us. It is important to recognize that we all have developed a pattern of using particular safe or unsafe coping skills as a result of trying to manage overwhelming feelings or emotional pain. Some of us have been lucky enough to have stumbled onto coping tools that help us manage overwhelming emotion safely and effectively while others of were not as fortunate.

We may have observed unsafe behavior in our environment and assumed that it was just the way to deal with life. Regardless of what coping you were using, remember that your brain was trying to keep you safe from the overwhelming pain being experienced. At some point, each person must decide what is working and what is no longer working to manage our emotional pain, stress, sadness, fear, etc.

Some warning signs that your current coping skills are no longer working for you:

  • You feel unable to engage in meaningful relationships.
  • It becomes challenging to get out of bed in the morning and show up for life.
  • You have difficulty with completing your work or schoolwork with the integrity and quality that you once had.
  • Trusted friends or family members regularly provide feedback that you don’t seem well or okay.
  • You find it difficult to sleep at night.
  • You are struggling with your finances because you are spending more money than you have on alcohol or other substances.

When you determine that your current methods of coping are no longer working, it becomes time to try something new. Seeking safety offers new and safe coping skills.

Grounding Techniques

Seeking safety presents three categories of grounding skills that an individual can learn and utilize to ground oneself. These include mental grounding, physical grounding, and soothing grounding. Individuals are encouraged to learn and practice each type of grounding but will likely gravitate towards one type of grounding which they find most effective.  It is important to note that while grounding, we do not assign positive or negative values – things aren’t pretty, ugly, good, or bad, they simply are.

Mental Grounding

Mental grounding uses one’s ability to focus on something external. It may be focusing on the external environment or engaging our brain in an activity in which our full attention is required (eg. the color of the walls, the textures in a painting, the variety of flowers outside, reading letters backwards, or naming all the sports teams you can think of).

To practice mental grounding, try the following exercise:

Take a moment and look at the space that you are in. Name all the colors you can see from where you are seated. Now, start at the number 100, and count down by 5’s. Finally, name all the cities you can think of.  

Physical Grounding

Physical grounding uses one’s ability to focus on the sensation of something external using our sense of smell, touch, taste, sight, or hearing.

To practice physical grounding, try the following exercise:

Touch an object around you and describe it – is it cold, warm, smooth, rough, small, or large? Next, press your palms together firmly and hold for 5 seconds. Now, release your palms and notice the difference in sensation of your hands.

Soothing Grounding

Soothing grounding uses the positive associations one already experiences internally and brings our focus to them. It may be identifying favorite things, calm places, and soothing experiences.

To practice soothing grounding, try the following exercise:

Think of your favorite color. Now think about your favorite animal. Finally, think about your favorite season. Now, think of your favorite upbeat song and try to sing a few bars of the song.

Self-Help Groups and Importance of a Safe Community

One of the key elements of Seeking Safety is the connection of community resources. These may be connecting to a specialty physician, finding a support group, locating a 12-Step or other substance treatment-focused group, locating supportive housing or identifying an individual therapist.

Self-Help Groups

Self-help groups are what many individuals think of when they consider the road to substance abuse recovery.  The biggest benefit of a self-help group is the community available as you work through your recovery. Self-help groups offer a safe space to be vulnerable and connect with others who can provide empathy as well as new insight as you share and listen to the stories and ways others have learned how to cope. Many people in self-help groups report being able to connect with “someone who gets it” for the first time in their lives. Shame is heavy when one is considering recovery and finding a safe place with others you trust is invaluable in this journey. Most self-help groups are not facilitated by a professional and may compliment individual therapy.

Twelve Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are available almost everywhere and offer a safe environment to work through recovery from an addiction. They offer a set of principles that members work through with the support of a community and/or sponsor to support long-term sobriety. These meetings are free of charge and offer a connection to others struggling with an addiction with the intention of moving towards sobriety. Meetings are typically facilitated by a non-professional and may be closed or open to the public. For more information about AA, visit their website.

SMART Recovery is another community-based self-help group with the intention of achieving sobriety and abstinence from substances. SMART is based on a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy with the underlying belief that managing the beliefs and emotions that lead one to drink or use a substance will empower you to quit and then abstain from use.  Meetings are facilitated by individuals that have been trained in SMART Recovery and may be professionals or community members. For more information about SMART Recovery, visit their website

Many community organizations host Twelve Step or SMART Recovery meetings or may facilitate other recovery-based meetings. Some Buddhist Temples may host a Recovery Sangha while Protestant Churches may host Celebrate Recovery.  A quick search online for “substance abuse self-help groups” will likely reveal numerous resources.

In addition to substance-based recovery self-help groups, some people may also consider self-help groups to address other specific concerns. Many people find it helpful to connect with others dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADD/ADHD or other mental-health related diagnoses. Others may find it helpful to attend a grief support group to increase support after a loss or a cancer/cancer survivor support group to connect with others experiencing a similar health problem. Survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault may find a support group beneficial as they recover from traumatic events. Many local hospitals or clinics offer FREE support groups that may increase insight and coping skills also supportive of long-term sobriety.

Safe Communities

A safe community is a haven as you work through your recovery. It provides new insight, feedback, and hope along the way of this journey towards healing. Each of us belongs to a family of some kind. Each of also has the ability to create or join a community of our choice that can become a second family to us. It is a safe space of like-minded people who meet with the intention of providing support to one another in recovery. A safe community offers space to ask questions and get a variety of responses. It supports the joyful and challenging days of life and celebrates and mourns with us. A safe community also provides us with numerous people we can count on when we need it most. When that one person isn’t available, there will be others who are equally committed to supporting you and the direction you intend to travel.  

A safe community can be found in self-help groups but can be anywhere you feel accepted and that your sobriety is supported. It may be a group of hunting buddies. Maybe your safe community is the mom-friends you meet at the park. Your safe community could be the depression support group you attend or the coffee enthusiast group you met at a Meet Up. They may be the entrepreneur mentoring group you joined or your weekly church Bible study. Whatever that safe community is, invest and engage in it. It is as important to find this safe community, as it is to be an active part in it. Show up again, and again, and again. Get to know the individuals in it, and allow them to know you.

Utilizing Safe Supportive Individuals

Why Do I Need Support?

We ALL need support. As humans, we are not meant to exist alone and isolated from one another. Vulnerability and accountability are imperative to recovery. We can’t heal and grow without being honest about what has already happened, what has kept us from moving forward and being honest about our hopes for the future. We also can’t begin to trust that the world is safe and good, without experiencing safe and good relationships with others. Vulnerability is the enemy of shame. When we are willing to show up as ourselves, we invite others to do the same and are likely to find that we are not alone. We find that someone else understands and that someone else is also imperfect. We find that people like us and choose us despite all of our imperfections. We begin to believe that we are enough. This belief that we are worthy of love… that we are enough, is the fuel we need to move forward towards change.

Who is a Safe Supportive Individual?

A safe supportive person can look like many things to different people. To some, this may be a trusted friend who will ask how you’re doing, and ask again when you answer “I’m fine.” It may look like a parent who sets boundaries in the relationship while reminding you that they love you and that your wellbeing is at the forefront of their intention. To others, this may be a therapist. An AA Sponsor. A priest or Rabbi, or Minister. These individuals are people you trust to have your best intention in mind and do not want you to continue making unsafe choices for yourself. They will be available to talk you through a craving or a flashback. They will remind you about how good you felt when you were sober and will encourage you to make it through another day, hour, or minute. A safe supportive individual will not judge you if you slip. They will ask what happened and continue to encourage you to pick up where you left off on your journey to sobriety. They will remind you that they are here and that you and your choices are important.

It can be scary to invite someone in. Most people experience some anxiety when they are identifying support people. It is normal to wonder if those people or groups will be there when we need them and if they will judge us when we slip. Support people are human, just like we are human. They will slip, like we will slip. The difference is that they will continue to show up for us and will ask us to continue showing up for ourselves.  This is how we know that they are safe and that the relationship is important to invest in and hold on to.

Our trained clinicians at APEX Recovery want to be a safe supportive person for you.  Our staff will provide you the support necessary to implement Seeking Safety safe coping skills, and began to live a life congruent with your goals.  Contact us today.