How to Develop a Safe Place For Mental Illness Recovery

October 6, 2015 Becky Oberg

Do you know how to develop a safe place? Recently my therapist and I began EMDR for PTSD (EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy). We started by building a safe place--a place for me to go to when traumatic memories become overpowering. This taught me how to develop a safe place--something every mental health consumer should have.

Step One: Visualize a Safe Place Location

While I, personally, believe it is best if one's safe place is an actual location, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a location they associate with safety. It depends entirely on the person's history.

For me, my safe place is a Native American sweat lodge I prayed at frequently when I lived in Texas (I am Native American-Caucasian mixed blood on my mother's side). Your safe place may be a church, a beach, or another planet. What is important is how it makes you feel. Your safe place must make you feel safe.

Knowing how to develop a safe place for retreat when you get over-stimulated or afraid can help heal PTSD. Read this to find out how to develop your safe place.My safe place also makes me feel warm, cared for, and close to God. In my safe place, it is dark, warm, comforting and I can hear chanting in the sacred language. I can feel the presence of all my relations and my Creator.

There is a very real power in my safe place that enables me to stand strong. Ideally, your safe place should be something like this. It may not be something you can put into words; it may be something that can only be felt. What's important is how your safe place makes you feel.

If you do not have a location you associate with safety, you may create your own safe place with visualization (good for psychiatric disorders) Incorporate elements of your spirituality, your treatment plan, and your life. Visualize a non-threatening location. My ex used a beach even though he'd never seen the ocean. I heard one case in which a young boy's safe place was the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium.

Describe what it looks like. Listen to how it sounds. Notice how it smells. Feel the physical sensations in this place. Then do what you can to bring it to life. Practice going there when you're safe, and it'll become easier to go there when you're in mental or emotional danger.

Step Two: Visualize a Protector of Your Safe Place

When I was in the Army, the mental health professionals developed a new strategy for treating traumatized combat veterans with PTSD. The therapist would play a combat scene on a video, then stop when the patient began to relive the trauma. The scene would then change to the patient's safe place, and a figure they associated with protection would appear. A popular choice was a Buddhist monk. One non-veteran receiving this type of treatment chose me because I'd been in the Army and she felt safe around military people.

I, personally, am still trying to find a protective figure. You may be like me and not associate your parents with protection--that's okay and that's not that uncommon for people with posttraumatic stress disorder. Think of someone who makes you feel safe--it does not have to be a real person. If Superman or Batman makes you feel safe, then take them to your safe place.

Your protector should be a nurturing figure who can, as my therapist put it, "comfort your vulnerable child." Your therapist may make a good person to take into your safe place as a result. The important thing about the protective figure is the nurturing aspect--you need to be in a safe place with a safe person in order to work your way through the traumatic event and avoid the fight-flight-freeze response.

Your protector does not need to be a person. It can be an animal. I find great strength from certain animals; I can't say more than that because it's not culturally appropriate to share one's spirit animals. If you have a dog or a cat or a rat or whatever that makes you feel safe and nurtured, then bring it with you to your safe place. As we said in the Army, "If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid."

Step Three: Remove Any Negative Aspects from Your Safe Place

Sometimes there are negative aspects associated with one's safe place. In this case, one should remove the negative aspects by replacing them with positive ones.

I feel sad sometimes when I think of my safe place because I've been torn away from it physically. So I remind myself of the power and love I felt while I was there, and I find myself receiving the sacred medicine even though I'm half a country away. I remind myself that I am still a warrior and that I am still connected to God and my loved ones, even if I'm not physically there. I may in time find another, closer safe place, but for now I've got one that works.

And in the end, that's all that matters.

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, October 6). How to Develop a Safe Place For Mental Illness Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Jon Allen
June, 26 2022 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for your article.

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