SAFE stands for Self Abuse Finally Ends, a topic that you know is close to my heart both because of the subject matter of my book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, and because as a teenager I struggled with self injury. I wish my parents had known about SAFE Alternatives at the time because I believe it really could have helped me.
Now this is a different sort of interview because I actually met Karen at a local coffee shop to talk about SAFE Alternatives. So I'm sort of going to be paraphrasing her answers here. Still she gave some great information. Please read on!
I asked Karen about how she got started with SAFE Alternatives and she told me that she is a certified group facilitator and she was trained in the substance abuse field. When it came time to do her clinical work, she wanted to do something other than substance abuse though. She saw an article in TV Guide about a hospital that treated self mutilators and spoke with one of the psychiatrists at that hospital to ask for patient referrals to start a group. At first she only had one patient and was completely winging it. Since she wasn't trained in one-on-one therapy, she needed to get more people into the group. So in January of 1985, she called the Chicago Tribune to see if they would be interested in doing a story about self injury. They did and this generated one or two more patients for the group.
Next Karen decided to send the Tribune article along to a TV program called AM Chicago, which recently had gotten a new host--a woman named Oprah Winfrey. Ultimately Karen was on Oprah's program twice and this generated five or six more people for the group. Next she contacted Donahue and that was the first national TV program about self injury. It aired in 1986. Within a year, the same psychiatrist she met initially introduced Karen to her business partner, Wendy Lader, and asked the two of them to write up a treatment plan.
Karen said that she and Wendy "didn't reinvent the wheel, [they] just rearranged it," working with Karen's substance abuse counseling background. At the time, those who self injured were often hospitalized from six months to two years. Karen and Wendy's program was a 30 day program with a 7 day extension. Karen said "to do effective treatment in a short period of time was considered radical at that time." Some of the important elements that they introduced to make their program successful was to let patients knows their discharge day. They also carefully screen the patients admitted into their program--not for severity, Karen says they have seen everything--but for motivation. The program is strictly voluntary. Patients are allowed access to their sharps, such as shaving razors, they simply have to sign them in and out. Patients also signed a no harm contract and unlike many contracts in other psych programs, SAFE Alternatives follows through on the consequences. The theory is "we can't keep you safe, but hopefully you will utilize us to get past it." Karen says the biggest compliment they get on the program is that patients say it is the first time they felt like someone had a belief in them.
Unlike AA, SAFE Alternatives doesn't follow the disease model. They treat self injury as symptoms and encourage their patients to learn that they are far more than their symptoms. They believe that part of the reason of injuring is inability to verbally communicate feelings. Instead of allowing a patient to simply say, "I feel like cutting," it is pointed out that they don't "feel like" cutting, they are "thinking of" cutting. And the patient is asked what is making them think of it, getting down to what causes the desire to injure.
Karen says the goal is not help patients "feel happy all the time. We're human and we have a range of feelings. There are no good or bad feelings." The goal is to learn how to manage the way patients feel without turning to self harm.
Currently, Karen runs an outpatient group on Tuesday evenings in my hometown of Forest Park, which has the same structure as the inpatient program complete with logs, the SAFE Focus manual and group therapy. SAFE Alternatives is working on an agreement with a hospital for their inpatient program as they have a waiting list of 300 people to get into that program. If you are interested in learning more about SAFE or their inpatient or outpatient programs, visits www.selfinjury.com
SAFE Alternatives also has a foundation aspect and you can find that website here. They have 501c3 status and can take donations here. The money they raise goes to things such as small grants for doctoral students doing research about self injury. They are also looking for volunteers as they would like to create the first 24-hour hotline for self injury. They currently have a hotline 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288) but Karen is the one who runs it so when she is not available people have to leave messages and she calls them back.
So that is the lowdown on SAFE, a very important program that has done a lot for many people since the 80s but hopes to do more in years to come. Of course, I also asked Karen the standard WWRW questions.
Karen couldn't remember her first album, thinking it was either the Beatles or the Rod Stewart. In terms of concerts, she saw bands that would go on to be big like Styx at small venues like Wheeling High School. But her first big concert was Bob Dylan at the Chicago Stadium in 1974 with The Band opening.
As for her rock star moment, it's a pretty cool one. Karen was asked to write part of a segment for 7th Heaven and it turned out to be their second highest rating show ever. They didn't really change the part of the segment she wrote at all. It was about a friend of the main character who was dealing with self injury. And when the girl's father is talking to the minister, he hands him Karen's business card with Karen's name visible and the 1-800-Dont-Cut phone number.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Karen and SAFE Alternatives (I wish I'd known about it 15 years ago!) and about all the other women I featured this month.
This is your last week to enter The Big December Contest! Here are all the details:
As you probably know by now, this month, I'm doing one big Women Who Rock Wednesday contest. The grand prize winner will get copies of both of my books I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and BALLADS OF SUBURBIA signed and, even more importantly, they will get to choose which charity I donate to at the end of the month. You'll find the list of charities below.
Here are the ways you can tally up entries this week:
+1 for leaving a comment
+1 for tweeting or linking to this blog entry
+1 for tweeting or linking to www.selfinjury.com or the SAFE Alternatives foundation website
+5 for posting about SAFE Alternatives on your blog, myspace or facebook page
+15 for donating to or volunteering for the SAFE Alternatives foundation
Please note your additional entries in your comment. Provide links when you can. Please also leave an email address in your comment so you can be contacted if you win!
Also there are the still first four charities/organizations to spread the word about to tally up more entries for this contest. Don't forget to check out the blogs about Keep On Keeping On, Real Change, Pizza Fusion , and Community Partners for Affordable Housing and enter those contests.
I'll be drawing my winner next Wednesday so it's time to pick which charity you would like me to donate to if you are the winner. Please, include with your comment, which of these charities you'd like to see me donate to (I know they are all amazing, but please pick only one):
-Sarah's Inn (this is the domestic violence agency that I talked about in my very first blog entry about this month long contest, and I also talk about it my local newspaper in a column I wrote about the important of giving today, which you can find here.)
-Keep On Keeping On (an org that assists those with physical disabilities, blog about that one here)
-Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project (blog about that one here)
-Earth Justice (a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. Suggested by Katie of Pizza Fusion, who was interviewed here.)
So please enter away and spread the word about all these important organizations!