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Seeking Safety Addiction Treatment Model

by Landmark Recovery

September 9, 2022
Someone lying on a couch during Seeking Safety therapy with his or her counselor as part of addiction treatment addressing how the trauma of his or her PTSD fuels his or her substance use disorder.

In the addiction treatment space, the term, Seeking Safety, refers to a curriculum of therapy developed to treat people with trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder. Seeking Safety takes an evidence-based, counseling approach to occurrences of comorbidity between disorders. This therapy model can target an individual patient or be applied to a group of any size. Interestingly, it doesn’t involve patients dredging up the memories to which their traumas are attached. 

Seeking Safety is supposed to be easy enough to apply that an untrained counselor could conduct it according to Lisa M. Najavits. She’s the author of Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse. Dr. Najavits developed and published the model at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites and links to her manual when defining the model.

Trauma, PTSD & Substance Use Disorder

In general, this form of therapy is called “Seeking Safety” specifically because of its emphasis on protection and shelter as the primary objective. The point is to help patients establish a sense of safety in four facets of life. The four areas of life practitioners aim to secure include relationships, thoughts, behavior and emotions.

Seeking Safety is an integrated treatment model that addresses both substance use disorder and trauma. The two have a significant overlap even according to research Dr. Najavits published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology as of 2013. This perspective led her to develop Seeking Safety as a means to address a patient’s whole problem rather than compartmentalize it. Complex trauma robs patients of their senses of safety, and substance use disorder tends to generate social, psychological and even physical threats.

“Complex trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorder (SUD) are like parts of a prism—different lenses from which to see into clients’ often-tragic past,” Najavits wrote in the published study’s opening salvo. “Though they may have formal diagnostic representations that lead us to view them as separate entities, they are highly related in the day-to-day experience of clients’ lives.”

Seeking Safety at Landmark Recovery

A group therapy session uses the Seeking Safety model for addiction treatment concerning substance use disorder, trauma and specifically PTSD.Seeking Safety is part of the clinical curriculum Landmark Recovery’s medically trained staff use to facilitate individual, group and family interventions. Landmark facilities provide twice as many hours per week as the national average for individual therapy, however. Just for groups, Landmark has 11 different offerings (e.g. “Science of Addiction,” “Understanding Trauma,” etc.). As such, patients who enroll in Landmark’s residential treatment program get over 40 hours of counseling each week. 

“We believe in an individualized approach to recovery, which is why we provide twice the number of therapy hours compared to the national aaverage and employ a passionate staff of masters level clinicians,” says Michelle Dubey, chief clinical officer at Landmark Recovery.

Landmark also provides a wealth of recovery support services for patients who graduate from the recovery program. These include both recovery coaching and general outpatient services. Moreover, Landmark extends its alumni program to include those graduates at no cost, which makes for an exceptional alternative to more traditional support groups. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing substance use disorder visit Landmark Recovery or call 888.448.0302 to get help. 


In practice, Seeking Safety is an approach that focuses on ideals. In theory, it assumes that those affected by trauma and substance use disorder have lost certain ideals along the way. As such, there’s a concerted effort to counteract that. These ideals are wide ranging and, thus, difficult to describe in any all-encompassing way. In essence, though, these are characteristics that an individual wants to be part of the image he or she portrays from the world. 

Psychologically speaking, this externally projected image is inherently separate from (and vaguely different from) one’s internal self-image. The manual Dr. Najavits penned examines this relative to four content areas. It aims to address behavioral, case management, cognitive and interpersonal applications. 

The manual allocates the bulk of its attention toward clinician processes. Its purpose is to walk even amateur practitioners through the method so that it can be aptly applied. As such, it looks at what kinds of emotional responses practitioners are likely to have and what their responses should be. It also analyzes the self-care process a practitioner should have. 

Broad Application of Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety is supposed to be exceptionally applicable across a wide spectrum of patients. Aside from the aforementioned fact that it can be conducted for groups or for individuals just as seamlessly, it’s also not demographic specific. Regardless of gender, age or even level of care, Seeking Safety can adequately treat all patients. There’s no type of trauma nor type of substance to which Seeking Safety doesn’t apply.

Levels of care are often determiners of what resources can be allocated toward treatment from both the patient and the provider. That’s not the case with Seeking Safety because it requires very little in the way of resources. The term, level of care, might refer to whether or not the client is an inpatient or outpatient for example.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.