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Safety-Seeking Behaviors / Safety Behaviors

Safety-seeking behaviors are behaviors that are carried out (either overtly or covertly) in specific situations in order to prevent feared outcomes (Salkovskis, 1991). Many safety-seeking behaviors are helpful and adaptive when the concern is real and the behavior can genuinely reduce the danger, such as checking the temperature of the water before getting in the bath or looking both ways before crossing the road. However, when safety-seeking behaviors concern perceived threats rather than actual dangers they are either unnecessary or can serve to exacerbate and maintain the anxiety.
The identification of safety-seeking behaviors has helped to explain the paradoxical observation that people with anxiety disorders have repeated experiences indicating that their fear is not warranted, yet fail to learn from their experiences (Harvey, Watkins, Mansell, & Shafran, 2004; Clark, 1999). Salkovskis (1991) states:
“In order to account for the failure of anxious patients to take advantage of naturally occurring disconfirmations, the cognitive hypothesis postulates a functional and internally logical link between cognition and behaviour … That is, a person panicking because he believes that a catastrophe is imminent will do anything he believes he can do to prevent the catastrophe. The person afraid of fainting sits, the person afraid of having a heart attack refrains from exercising, and so on. By doing so, the patient not only experiences immediate relief, but also unwittingly ‘protects’ his or her belief of the potential for disaster associated with particular sensations. Each panic attack, rather than being experienced as a disconfirmation, becomes another example of nearly being overtaken by disaster; ‘I have been close to fainting so many times: I have to be careful, or one of these times I won’t be able to catch it.’ This means that the apparent failure of panic patients to take advantage of natural disconfirmations may be because the non-occurrence of feared catastrophes, when associated with safety seeking behaviour, does not constitute an actual disconfirmation, and may sometimes be perceived as confirmation of a ‘near miss.’ ”
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Problem

Therapy tool

Language

Avoidance Hierarchy

Avoidance and safety-seeking behavior serves to maintain anxiety, and exposure to the fear stimuli/situation is an effective treatment for anxiety. Th ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/avoidance-hierarchy/

Exercise

Behavioral Experiment

Behavioral experiments allow individuals to test the validity of their beliefs and assumptions. They are a core experiential technique for therapeutic ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/behavioral-experiment/

Worksheet

Checking Certainty And Doubt

Psychologists have discovered interesting relationships between Checking, Certainty, And Doubt. This information handout contains an exercise helpful ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/checking-certainty-and-doubt/

Exercise

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Anorexia Nervosa (2003)

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by restriction of energy intake and intense fear of gaining weight. For women, the lifetime preva ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-anorexia-nervosa-2003/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) (2004)

Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) experience distress associated with their body image. The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Body Dysmorphi ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-body-dysmorphic-disorder-bdd-2004/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Fear Of Bodily Sensations (2018)

Fear of bodily sensations is present in a number of conditions, most notably panic disorder. The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Fear Of Bodily Sensatio ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-fear-of-bodily-sensations-2018/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Health Anxiety (2003)

Individuals with health anxiety experience clinically significant distress associated with health concerns. The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Health A ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-health-anxiety-2003/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Health Anxiety (2018)

The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Health Anxiety describes maintaining factors which prolong distress in health-anxious clients. The formulation is pr ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-health-anxiety-2018/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (1998)

The essential insight of the cognitive behavioural model of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is that it is the client’s interpretation of the int ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-1998/

Worksheet

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Panic (1986)

The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Panic identifies catastrophic misinterpretation of body sensations as a criticial maintenance factor which serves to ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-panic-1986/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness (PPPD) (2017)

Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) is a form of dizziness which is thought to be maintained by psychological factors. ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-persistent-postural-perceptual-dizziness-pppd-2017/

Information Handout

Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Tinnitus (2014)

The Cognitive Behavioral Model Of Tinnitus identifies cognitive, behavioral, and perceptual changes which operate to maintain tinnitus perception and ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/cognitive-behavioral-model-of-tinnitus-2014/

Information Handout

Emotions Motivate Actions

Many clients find it helpful to recognize the range of actions that are motivated by different emotional states. This worksheet encourages clients to ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/emotions-motivate-actions/

Information Handout

Habituation

The Habituation information sheets are designed to help clinicians to explain the concept of habituation and its role in exposure therapy. The handout ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/habituation/

Information Handout

Interoceptive Exposure

Interoceptive exposure (exposure to bodily sensations) is a critical part of CBT treatment for panic disorder. This information sheet and worksheet de ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/interoceptive-exposure/

Exercise

Maintenance Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

An important treatment implication of the cognitive behavioral model of OCD is that clinicians can work at the level of the meaning of the intrusion. ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/maintenance-of-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/

Worksheet

Maximizing The Effectiveness Of Exposure Therapy

Despite its position as the leading treatment technique for anxiety disorders, not all clients respond to exposure therapy and some individuals relaps ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/maximizing-the-effectiveness-of-exposure-therapy/

Information Handout

OCD Hierarchy

Part of traditional CBT treatment for OCD is exposure to situations which trigger obsessions (classically accompanied by the prevention of the associa ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/ocd-hierarchy/

Exercise

Process Focused Case Formulation

The Process-Focused Case Formulation encourages clinicians to make hypotheses regarding mechanisms or processes which they believe may be maintainin ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/process-focused-case-formulation/

Worksheet

Safety Behaviors

Safety behaviors are actions carried out with the intention of preventing a feared catastrophe. In the short-term they often give a sense of relief, b ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/safety-behaviors/

Information Handout

Safety Behaviors Example

Safety behaviors are actions carried out with the intention of preventing a feared catastrophe. In the short-term they often give a sense of relief, b ... https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/safety-behaviors-example/

Information Handout

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