Safe, But Exposed: Inherent Conflicts in Safety Signal Conceptualization


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Safety behaviors are a strategy many individualswith anxiety disorders develop to reduce anxiety and perpetuate avoidance. Experimental research has consistently suggested that safety behavior interferes with treatment outcome. Helbig-Lang and Petermann (2010) highlight distinctions between maladaptive safety behavior and adaptive coping. In this commentary, I highlight some inherent conflicts that exist in the conceptualization of safety behavior as it relates to the conceptualization of anxiety disorder, including (a) naturally occurring efforts to obtain safety, even for stimuli that carry low threat risk, (b) examination of the full range of emotions associated with safety behavior, and (c) professional attitudes that contribute to mixed signals regarding the importance of safety. Recommendations are offered to begin to resolve these conflicts.

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