Seeking Safety– You Are Not Alone


Seeking Safety is a manual driven treatment for PTSD and addiction, developed by Dr. Lisa Najavits. It was originally designed for use with all female groups, but has since been used with a wide variety of different populations. the last several years I have had the honor of being trusted by a group of women in a Seeking Safety group.  One of the greatest benefits they get from participating in this treatment is being with others who have experienced trauma and/or addiction. One of the greatest barriers to recovery that they have mentioned, time and again, is having other people in their lives who don’t believe they have a serious problem. “Snap out of it.” “Get over it.” “Stop being a whiner and a crybaby…”are some of the nicer things people say to them. These are barriers to recovery for most behavioral health problems, but particularly so for survivors of trauma. For these women, it feels good to get in a group where they are believed, both about the original trauma and its aftermath. It should be noted here that in this form of treatment, there is a strong emphasis on not telling one’s trauma story. This is because it can be too traumatic for both the teller and the other group members.  The goal of the treatment is to build the personal resources to deal with trauma symptoms and to feel safe in the here and now.

I am thinking about this now because of the reported skepticism about why a large number of accusers have come up in such short order accusing Mr. Trump. It reminds of me of a story about a group of women in treatment for drug addiction twenty or more years ago in a program in San Francisco called Moving Addicted Mothers Ahead (MAMA). This program took place at Glide Church in San Francisco, which then had a charismatic pastor named Cecil Williams. Cecil was known as a spellbinding orator, come sermon time, and people listened. He was also known for addressing the needs of his urban congregation and addressing recovery issues.

In one Sunday’s sermon, he was addressing the classic AA saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets” and the way out of the sickness– being willing to disclose. A group of women from the MAMA program were there, and one suddenly stood up and interrupted him. “I was molested as a child,” she said, “and it has affected my life ever since.” Another woman stood up, then another. One by one, they disclosed that they all had been victims of sexual abuse, either as children or as adults. But it took the courage of one to lead it off.

Let me point out the obvious differences from current events here– they were not all saying they were victimized by the same person. There was no election going on and no question of any ulterior motive. They were all at the same place at the same time. But there was the same “bandwagon” effect, kicked off by one person speaking out. I believe this is because it was easier once each of the women felt that she was not alone, and that she would be believed. I also need to say that to me the story is apocryphal– I wasn’t there. But based on my personal and clinical experience it makes sense. The MAMA program was a program of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, where I worked at the time, and the story was widely shared, and it transformed our approach to what is now widely known as trauma informed treatment– recognizing that many people coming into treatment for both addiction and mental health problems have suffered from trauma and have symptoms that need to be addressed. It seems obvious in retrospect.

While politics are involved in this discussion, it is not my direct intention to involve this blog in politics. It is to shamelessly exploit the controversy in order to speak out for victims of trauma. As others around me have pointed out, men can be the victims of trauma, both sexual and otherwise, and not all trauma results in PTSD. But people are exposed to traumatic events all the time– hurricane Matthew, the recent flooding in Louisiana, urban violence (another political topic which I’m skipping), even car crashes, witnessing domestic violence. It’s a long list.

For some, a traumatic event is a bad experience from which they can recover relatively quickly. It leaves its mark, but doesn’t overshadow the rest of life. For others, it can leave a legacy of nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, difficulties in relationships, even missing time episodes multiple personalities and out-of-body experiences. People who are living with PTSD know what I mean. And if you have someone in your life living with PTSD the biggest thing you can do is to believe that the symptoms are real. The sense of isolation, not being believed, is one of the greatest barriers to recovery. But believe it: after all, no one can see your headache, and they don’t tell you to “just snap out of it.” If you are living with PTSD and haven’t participated in a Seeking Safety group, you might want to find one. You are not alone. You can get better.

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About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in Addiction, behavioral health, belongingness, Emotions, Feelings, group therapy, hope, mental health, Recovery and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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