What comes to mind when you think of the words “safety plan” or “behavioral contract?” The word “contract” can sound a bit intimidating and “safety plan” could almost sound immature. But both are essential and basically mean the same thing. Either way, they are useful for individuals battling severe, untreated, or resistant (unable to be easily treated) mental health conditions. But they are most useful for children and adolescents.A “safety plan” is something that I mentioned in my previous article about mental health evaluations. They are documents or forms that allow a mental health professional or individual to list important contact numbers including hotlines, individuals the person trusts such as family or friends, coping skills such as taking a warm bath, exercising, and listening to music, and writing down a plan of action in case of an emergency or mental health crisis. My safety plans with adolescents often include 1 thing that could make them lose control, 2 things they could do to cope, a prefered coping method out of those 2 coping skills, 3 important people to contact for support, and a signature and date from the teen to serve as a reminder that the safety plan is to be taken seriously and used when necessary. A “safety plan” for adults may look a tad different and include hotline phone numbers and coping skills that are most useful during times of stress.
A “behavioral contract,” however, is a tad different in that it requires an individual to make a promise that they will not engage in risky, self-injurious, or suicidal behaviors without first reaching out for help, contacting a mental health professional, or using coping skills. A behavioral contract may include a paragraph such as:
“I, Shelly Ranger, have spoke to my therapist about my recent self-harm and depression. I have discussed my thought patterns and how these patterns affect my mood and outlook on life. My therapist and I will attempt to work on uncovering my negative self-talk and developing better coping skills. I have committed to not harming myself for 20 days while I am meeting my therapist.
Date: 3-9-1990 Signature: Shelly Ranger”
All behavior contracts are different and every therapist has a different view on how effective safety plans and behavioral contracts are. You can design these at home as well or use them with a loved one. Consider asking your therapist or a loved one’s therapist about safety plans and behavior contracts and whether or not they are useful.
As always, all the best to you