FSU Researchers Find ‘Seeking Safety’ Program Helps Improve Mental Health for Incarcerated Women
New research from Florida State University has found that Seeking Safety, a cognitive behavior-based intervention program, is a promising program for reducing incarcerated women’s symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
FSU College of Social Work Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Institute for Justice Research and Development Stephen J. Tripodi led a team of researchers in examining the benefits of the intervention program. Their findings were published in print in the journal Research on Social Work Practice.
“Our study is the first known experimental study assessing the effectiveness of Seeking Safety with women selected from a prison’s general community, not just tested among women already in a substance use disorder treatment unit,” Tripodi said.
Seeking Safety was developed in 2002 by Lisa M. Najavits, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University. The program involves 25 modules that address an assortment of cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal skills, covering topics such as detaching from emotional pain and the importance of healthy relationships.
Forty incarcerated women housed at a medium/maximum custody women’s prison in North Carolina participated in the study. Half received the Seeking Safety programming, while the other half received standard services such as anger management, mindful meditation, substance abuse treatment and group intervention.
Researchers found that while both groups’ symptoms of depression and PTSD decreased by the conclusion of the trial, the women who received Seeking Safety reported greater improvements overall. Specifically, PTSD symptoms among those who participated in Seeking Safety moved from severe to moderate, suggesting improvements in their overall well-being. PTSD symptoms among the women in the trial who did not receive Seeking Safety, decreased slightly but they remained in the severe range.
“It was important to examine the helpfulness of the program for incarcerated women because the intervention has potential long-term positive impacts, sustainability and potential cost-effectiveness considering these improved mental health variables are related to recidivism,” Tripodi said.
Based on these promising results, the researchers note that this study should be replicated with a larger sample to examine whether Seeking Safety helps to improve incarcerated women’s emotional and psychological well-being. To that end, Tripodi’s research team is currently assessing whether Seeking Safety and another trauma-based intervention called STAIR are helpful for a larger sample of women soon to be released from a women’s prison in Florida.
“It is time to move beyond a focus on recidivism and to work toward improving health outcomes and overall well-being among incarcerated women,” Tripodi said. “Developing well-being is likely the key to reducing incarcerated women’s distress, connecting them to their family and community and helping to ensure that they never return to prison.”
Tripodi’s coauthors are Associate Professor Susan A. McCarter and Assistant Professor Annelise M. Mennicke both of University of North Carolina at Charlotte and FSU doctoral candidate Katie Ropes Berry.