Creating a Safety Plan
In a psychological crisis it can be difficult to make sensible and rational decisions: it's therefore important to be well prepared beforehand with a clear plan to follow. This is exactly what a safety plan is there for. When a crisis arises, it can help you take the right steps to manage the situation.
Create your safety plan together with your psychotherapist. If you are not currently receiving psychotherapeutic treatment, you can create your safety plan together with someone you trust and who knows you well. Begin by identifying the warning signs that a crisis is coming. You should commit these warning signs to memory, so that you will be able to recognise in plenty of time when a crisis is looming. The next step is to identify the appropriate steps to take once you notice these warning signs. The safety plan follows a simple pattern consisting of four categories. The first two categories centre around self-help. You should be in a position to carry out these activities on your own. If the self-help strategies are no longer making a difference, you need to turn to external help. Start by getting in touch with those close to you and then contact professional health groups. When a crisis arises, you should follow the plan step for step from top to bottom. If you are already in a crisis and the first steps are no longer helping, you should skip straight to the later steps and get external help. Make sure that you discuss the steps with your psychotherapist!
The Four Categories in your Safety Plan
You can add as many steps as you would like to your safety plan from the four different categories.
In the event of a crisis follow your safety plan through step by step, starting at the top and working your way down to the bottom.
1. Coping Strategies
You should be able to carry out these coping strategies by yourself, regardless of where you are. They can help you improve your situation and manage the crisis. You may have previously heard them referred to as ‘skills’. Ask yourself which activities have helped you in the past when you were feeling unwell. These might be activities that you enjoy, that you are particularly god at, or that can simply help to distract you. Some examples are playing an instrument, doing sport, having a bath, cooking, reading or tidying up. Strong sensations can also be helpful for some people, for example having a cold shower. You can find a few examples of strategies/skills here. Try these strategies out and adapt them with the support of your professional therapist. He or she will definitely have further ideas that can help you.
2. People and Places for Distraction
Particular people or places can help you to have other thoughts. A suitable place could be, for example, your favourite cafe or a great library. Some people are also helped by being outside in nature. Just remember that the place should not be too difficult to reach. Here you can also create a list of the people that help you to have other thoughts. You can decide whether you want to simply talk over the phone, meet up with them, or do something together.
3. Support Contacts
If your self-help measures are not adequate for you to manage the crisis, you should get in touch with a support contact who can help you. Enter contacts for such a case into your safety plan so that you can turn to them when you need support. These contacts will most likely be friends and family members. You could also, for example, note down your pastor or your school counsellor. It is important that these contacts are willing and able to help you in a crisis situation. For many people, helping someone in a crisis represents a significant challenge. Make sure therefore that you speak with your support contacts in detail about how they can help you in such a situation and if they would be willing to be included in your safety plan. It is best to involve your psychotherapist, since they will be able to give your support contact further information and advice.
4. Professional Help and Counselling Services
The final stage is to note down emergency contacts that could offer you professional help if your situation deteriorates severely, if there is a risk of self-harm, or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. In the UK, the Samaritans (116 123) and other counselling services are helpful contact points that you can turn to. These services have considerable experience with different crisis situations and can therefore give you tips and advice about how you can come out of the crisis. In acute distress you should call the emergency services (UK number 999).
If you think that one of the above categories would not be suitable for your own safety plan, feel free to leave it out. You do not have to fill out every stage. If you find out over time that particular strategies in your safety plan are not as helpful as you had expected, simply adapt your plan accordingly. The plan should give you security and confidence that you will be able to manage every crisis well. You should always bear in mind that crises can be overcome, no matter how hopeless they may seem.
Important: write your safety on a piece of paper that you can carry around with you. This means that your safety plan is still available, even if your smartphone runs out of battery.
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