Dr. Albert Jerome

Thoughts on Psychotherapy and Behavior Change

Anxiety and Safety Behaviors

Posted by Draljerome on January 31, 2010

Safety behaviors and safety objects are important concepts for understanding the cognitive-behavioral treatment for anxiety disorders. A safety behavior is any behavior that serves to keep you “safe” when entering situations in which you feel anxious. For example, if you fear driving over bridges you may be able to manage the trip as long has you drive slowly in the right lane and keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Driving in this manner constitutes a safety behavior. An example of a safety object is always carrying your anxiety medication “just in case.”

Safety behaviors/objects are important because they can interfere with the successful treatment of anxiety. If they remain in effect during exposure treatment, they may prevent the decrease in fear and anxiety that would normally occur. Remember, exposure therapy helps you to learn that the feared object or situation is not dangerous. Repeated exposure should result in an attenuation of your fear response. Safety behaviors/objects interfere with the process of attenuation of response because the lack of negative consequences during exposure may be presumed to be because of the safety behaviors/objects, rather than the fact that the situation is not really dangerous.

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