National expert brings safety program to Maine to benefit psychiatric patients

Released 3/25/05
Nationally renowned trauma and substance abuse researcher and McLean Hospital psychologist Lisa Najavits, PhD, is in Maine today to deliver her 'Seeking Safety' training program to the psychiatric staff of Spring Harbor Hospital and Maine Medical Center.
The program, which details best clinical practices for treating individuals with a history of trauma and substance abuse, takes place at the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland from 8 to 5 PM.
In the 'Seeking Safety' psychotherapy model developed by Najavits, ‘safety’ is the first stage of healing for those with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. As such, patients are asked to explore what safety means to them and learn as many as 80 safe coping skills. The overarching goal of the model is to help these individuals recover from illness by achieving safety in their relationships, thinking, and emotions, with an emphasis on safe behavior.
"We are interested in this technique because it focuses first and foremost on patient safety," says Mary Jane Krebs, APRN, BC, who is the vice president of clinical and nursing psychiatric care at Maine Medical Center and Spring Harbor. "It also will help our treatment teams leverage each patient's personal strengths to help them recover from their illnesses."
In her opening remarks to the group of 60 trainees, Krebs noted that the principles of the training are congruent with Spring Harbor's patient safety goals and will complement the hospital's current initiatives to reduce the use of patient restraints during patient emergencies.
In psychiatric hospitals, use of restraint is a leading cause of patient injuries. As such, it is among the top process improvement areas being addressed by Spring Harbor.
"We want to become a totally restraint-free treatment setting," Krebs says. "To do that, our staff needs to have the best, most reliable therapeutic methods at their disposal. That's why we are here today."
Since sufferers of trauma often use substances to dull their pain, the 'Seeking Safety' therapeutic method centers on treating both trauma and substance abuse in an integrated fashion. That aspect of the program is of interest to Spring Harbor because nearly 70% of the patients treated at the hospital experience both mental illness and a co-occurring substance abuse problem.
Krebs says Najavits was asked to present to the hospital staff based on research performed by members of Spring Harbor's Patient Safety Team. "They found that Lisa's research in trauma and substance abuse and her resulting treatment approach best matched our client's needs and our own philosophy of providing safe, respectful, and effective patient care," Krebs notes.
Najavits is director of the Trauma Research Program in the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and a researcher at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Boston Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. She has received a variety of National Institutes of Health research grants, including an Independent Scientist Career Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Her major clinical and research interests include trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and psychotherapy-outcome research.
More information about Najavits and her 'Seeking Safety' training program may be found at
Spring Harbor is southern Maine’s only hospital devoted exclusively to treating psychiatric and substance abuse problems. Spring Harbor manages the mental health services of Maine Medical Center, which include an inpatient unit for geriatric psychiatry and several outpatient clinics in Greater Portland. Together, Spring Harbor and Maine Medical Center provide the most comprehensive nonprofit network of psychiatric treatment, research, and physician-training programs north of Boston. For more information, call 1-866-857-6644 or visit