Seeking Safety teaches coping skills


By Sue Cody

Survivors of domestic violence and other traumas are learning safe coping skills in a supportive group setting in Astoria and Seaside.

The Harbor and Providence Seaside Hospital have partnered to offer Seeking Safety Support Groups funded by a health and care grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, designed to increase connections to available services.

Seeking Safety Support Groups empower people by focusing on skills to overcome trauma and achieve safety in their relationships, behavior and thinking. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, substance use disorders and other traumas have been helped by this evidence-based model, according to Treatment Innovations.

Evidence shows Seeking Safety programs can decrease depression, domestic violence and mental health issues, says Amy Lewis, a health care advocate at The Harbor, an intervention and support group for survivors of domestic violence.

“Before the 1980s, the belief was you had to desensitize yourself to trauma by repeating your story,” says Angela Braaten, LCSW, group facilitator at Providence Seaside Hospital. “Talk it, talk it, talk it, tell your story, tell your story. By telling their story they were traumatizing other victims who heard their story. We don’t do that anymore.”

“Participants don’t go into detail about their trauma, they focus on how past traumas affect current behavior,” says Lewis.

“We are here to empower people,” Braaten says. “Outcomes have been very successful in decreasing depression, anxiety, unsafe coping, suicidology and substance abuse.”

A Spanish speaking group will begin in February, led by Paula Bartheld.


How it works

Seeking Safety is free, ongoing and requires no commitment. Lewis says when people have to commit to a start and end date, it limits their ability to attend. This program is flexible and is there when people need it.

Clients are referred by Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, therapists, clinicians and people who see a need for trauma assistance. Seeking Safety in turn guides participants to other social services.

“The community wraps people in support, such as shelters, food banks, The Way to Wellville, Clatsop Community Action and CHART (Community Health Advocacy and Resource Team),” Braaten says.

Group facilitators have an orientation for new members that describes the process, including a focus on current behavior, and avoidance of processing trauma. The biggest focus of Seeking Safety is gaining a clear understanding of safe and unsafe coping skills.

“We talk about how trauma is affecting them today, and what they can do today to deal with that. It’s a very now-focused program,” she says.

At the beginning of each session, every group member checks in and identifies safe coping and unsafe coping they used since the last meeting. Unsafe coping behaviors include risky sex, choosing to stay in bed all day, spending too much money, using alcohol or other substances to excess.

“We as facilitators participate in that check in,” Lewis says. “We are modeling safe coping. And that kind of normalizes it and shows it is just part of being a normal person. People in trauma put so much judgment on themselves, and think their coping is horrible. They don’t realize that everyone judges themselves.”

Braaten says, “With every lesson, we reinforce the safe coping that has happened and talk about any unsafe coping such as substance use, and identify any skills that could be used instead.”

Positive skills include asking for help, leaving an uncomfortable place, remaining honest, carrying a positive object and setting boundaries. Even crying is a safe coping skill, especially compared to unsafe options.

At the end of the session, everyone makes a commitment to a positive coping action, even as simple as getting out of bed every day. They report back on it the next time they check in.

“It gives you a focus outside the hour and a half we spend together,” Braaten says. “With research-based curricula, we are always looking to see how it translates to change in life.”

The free support groups are held at:

  • 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays, The Harbor, 801 Commercial St., Astoria
  • 4-5:30 p.m. Thursdays, Providence Seaside Hospital, Education Rooms A and B, 725 S. Wahanna Road, Seaside

To register or for more information, contact, 503-325-5735 or, 503-717-7419.

For more information on Seeking Safety, see