Our Philosophy


The S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES® philosophy begins with the assumption that, although temporarily helpful, self-injurious behavior is ultimately a dangerous and futile coping strategy which interferes with intimacy, productivity and happiness. There is no “safe” or “healthy” amount of self-injury. We also believe that self-injury is not an addiction over which one is powerless for a lifetime, people can and do stop injuring, with the right help and support. Self-injury can be transformed from a seemingly uncontrollable compulsion to a choice.

The S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES® philosophy respects the autonomy and choice-making capacities of the individual. It is not an authoritarian model; we don’t believe that helpers can or should take all the responsibility for keeping the self-injurer safe. Ultimately, the self-injurer must be empowered to learn to keep themselves safe. In order to get well, there must be a shift in the locus of responsibility from the helper, to the one being helped. The helping relationship is a partnership, not a “parental” relationship. At S.A.F.E., we try to create a “culture of safety” in which the injurer comes to realize that self-injury destroys relationships, and safety brings people closer to them. We also do not employ infantilizing, restricting methods of behavior control, which reinforce the individual’s sense of helplessness and powerlessness.

Our philosophy involves the reliance on words, the context of relationships as the primary means for managing feelings and gaining self-awareness and self-control. Self-injurers have often learned that feelings must be dealt with through physical actions of some kind. At S.A.F.E., we help clients learn to delay the urge to self-harm, reflect on what they are feeling and choose an alternative mode of coping. We call this process “enlarging the window of opportunity” between the urge to self-injure and the actual act. This window of time “frees up” the self-injurer to try something different.

S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES® opened in 1986 and since that time has grown into a world-renowned treatment program which has helped thousands of people successfully end self-injurious behavior. A treatment team of experts uses therapy, education, and support to empower clients to identify healthier ways to cope with emotional distress. The S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES® philosophy and model of treatment focus on shifting control to the client, empowering them to make healthy choices, including the choice to not self-injure. Quality of Life is a Choice.