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Safety-seeking behaviours: Fact or function? How can we clinically differentiate between safety behaviours and adaptive coping strategies across anxiety disorders?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Richard Thwaites, Professor Mark FreestonORCiD


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Safety-seeking behaviours are seen as playing a key role in the maintenance of various anxiety disorders. This article examines their role in panic disorder and social phobia and suggests that, whilst there are clear theoretical differences between safety-seeking behaviours and adaptive coping strategies, the difficult issue in clinical practice is being able to distinguish between the two. It builds on previous work by Salkovskis and colleagues and provides a detailed discussion of the problems in distinguishing between safety-seeking behaviours (direct avoidance, escape and subtle avoidance) and adaptive coping strategies in clinical practice. The suggestion is made that topology can only be a guide to categorizing the two types of responses and they can only be fully distinguished by taking into account the intention of the individual and their perceived function to that individual in the specific context. It is suggested that further analysis of the use of safety-seeking behaviours aimed at avoiding a variety of outcomes at differing levels of catastrophe may provide useful information that would clarify our understanding of the role of such behaviours in maintaining anxiety disorders.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Thwaites R, Freeston MH

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Year: 2005

Volume: 33

Issue: 2

Pages: 177-188

ISSN (print): 1352-4658

ISSN (electronic): 1469-1833

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S1352465804001985


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