How to Make a Safety Plan in 7 Steps
When working with a client who presents as being in a risky situation where their life or well-being may be put at risk one of the first things I do is make a safety plan with them.
A safety plan can be useful in all sorts of situations. It can be helpful for people experiencing suicidal ideation or urges to self-harm, for people who are dealing with abuse or unsafe situations at home or school, and for people dealing with addictions who may be put in situations that tempt them to use. It doesn't even have to be a "serious" or "crisis" situation - if you think that you may feel unsafe, scared or at risk at some point, you may find making a safety plan can help give you some peace of mind.
There also isn't a set age for when safety plans can be useful. I've made simple verbal safety plans with children as young as 7, where we spoke about where in their house they could go when they feel unsafe or worried. I've also made thorough written safety plans with young adults who felt they were at risk of acting on their thoughts of suicide, plans that covered everything from how they can know when they might feel triggered to what kind of physical strategies they could use to keep themselves safe.
Below is an example of a safety plan that you can use if you or someone you know is dealing with unsafe situations. Remember that the most effective safety plans are ones that speak to the individuals using them, ones that are personalized and practical.
Example Safety Plan
1) What situations may lead to you being unsafe? What flags can you look out for?
2) What can you do to keep yourself physically safe? Is there somewhere specific you can go, certain tools or weapons you could hide, positions you could sit in to feel comforted? Do these things.
3) Who can you talk to on a social level, such as friends or family? (Note: these don't have to be people you tell about your unsafe situation - you can talk with them about something completely unrelated, as long as it helps create a distraction.) Reach out to them in that moment.
4) Which professionals can you talk to? Counsellors, therapists, doctors, crisis lines? These are the next people to reach out to.
5) What can you do to keep yourself distracted? Can you go for a walk, watch tv, listen to music, scream into a pillow, cry it out? Anything that won't cause you direct harm and that you think may distract you even for a bit. Choose two or three activities you enjoy and do each for minimum 10 minutes.
6) What can you say to yourself to help get you through the moment? For example, "I know these urges will pass, I can hold on" or "I can get through this - I have gotten through it before and I can get through it again." Write these messages out to yourself, or say them out loud if you can.
7) Consider calling emergency services or going to the hospital if you feel like you are still unsafe or need help.
One of the main purposes of safety plans is to make time - in cases of abuse it is to make time where you are safe from abuse, and in cases of self-harm it is to make time to allow the urges to pass. Whatever you can do to make additional safe and secure spaces for yourself when you are feeling uncertain, unsafe or worried is worth your time - trust me.
This is a place to start, but if you are looking for further resources around safety planning you may find some of the following supports helpful:
- Settlement.org Create a Safety Plan (for abuse victims)
- eMentalHealth Safety Plan
- Mind Your Mind Be Safe App
If you have additional resources you would like to share, feel free to add them in the comments!