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The Sanctuary Model

Sanctuary ModelThe Sanctuary® Model is a blueprint for clinical and organizational change which, at its core, promotes safety and recovery from adversity through the active creation of a trauma-informed community. A recognition that trauma is pervasive in the experience of human beings forms the basis for the Sanctuary Model’s focus not only on the people who seek services, but equally on the people and systems who provide those services.

The Sanctuary Model originated in the Philadelphia area in the early 1980s, created by Dr. Sandra Bloom and her colleagues. Over time, the model has been adapted for use in a wide range of human service programs across the U.S. and abroad. The Sanctuary Model is comprised of three primary components:

1. A philosophy for creating safe environments through community adherence to Seven Commitments

2. The trauma-informed problem solving framework represented by the acronym S.E.L.F., which stands for the four categories Safety, Emotions, Loss, and Future.

3. A set of practical tools, known as the Sanctuary Tool Kit

The Sanctuary Model identifies the experience of trauma along a wide continuum that includes both discrete events and ongoing, cumulative and perhaps intangible experiences like racism and poverty. Trauma theory suggests that many of the behavioral symptoms that we see in individuals are a direct result of coping with adverse experiences. In order to intervene effectively, we must move from a position of blame to one of questioning; Sanctuary recommends changing the central question we ask about the people we serve from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What’s happened to you?” as the first step in recognizing the influence of the past on current behaviors and functioning.

Sanctuary also recognizes that just as human beings are susceptible to adversity, organizations themselves are equally vulnerable. This understanding is reflected in the recognition that there is a parallel between the traumatic symptoms we see in the people we serve and those that we see in an organization. Just as we see individuals who have experienced trauma responding with isolative behavior and withdrawal from the community, we also see organizations facing financial or political stressors responding with isolationism, rigidity and autocratic decision-making. Intervening in this parallel process requires shifting behaviors and thinking to align with trauma-informed practices. Sanctuary provides the blueprint to accomplish this alignment.

When an organization makes the commitment to implement Sanctuary, trains its staff in the philosophical underpinnings, embraces the language of S.E.L.F., and uses the Sanctuary tools, its members can expect to see improved outcomes for clients, improved staff retention and satisfaction, and decreased violence. While many models address the individual and group treatment needs of vulnerable clients, Sanctuary is unique in that it instructs leaders and community members not only in providing service to their clients, but also in creating safer, better-functioning organizations.

Sanctuary defines trauma in very broad terms, including exposure to experiences like abuse as well as exposure to more intangible forms of adversity, like poverty, racism and neglect. The Seven Sanctuary Commitments are a set of values that Sanctuary outlines as a way to lead individuals and organizations away from trauma-reactive behaviors.

To view a PDF on the Sanctuary Commitments, click here.

The Sanctuary Tools are a set of practical and simple interventions that reinforce the language and philosophy of the Sanctuary® Model. These tools are daily practices for both staff and the people they serve to support an organization’s creation of an environment that mitigates the negative effects of chronic stress and adversity. The Sanctuary tools are adapted and individualized for organizations based on the services they provide and the population they serve. Below is a sample of some of the Sanctuary Toolkit.

To view a PDF on the Sanctuary Tools, click here.

An important component of the Sanctuary® Model is the problem-solving framework of S.E.L.F., which stands for the four categories Safety, Emotions, Loss, and Future. This framework is a trauma-informed way of organizing conversations and documentation in a simple and accessible language. The S.E.L.F. framework levels the playing field for clients, families, staff, and administrators by moving away from jargon and toward a more fundamental organizing system. These four categories (S.E.L.F.) represent the four dynamic areas of focus for trauma recovery. It is also used to solve system and organizational problems in a nonlinear fashion that appreciates complexity.

S.E.L.F. is a non-linear framework, so using it means sometimes going out of order when looking at an issue. Often, it makes sense to start with future (where we hope to be) and work backwards from there, considering concerns and possible interventions related to safety, emotions and loss.

To view a PDF on the S.E.L.F. Framework, click here.

If you would like to learn more about the Sanctuary Model, please contact Sarah Yanosy, LCSW at or (914) 965-3700, extension 1117.  You may also view more information about the Sanctuary Institute to learn how your organization can implement the Sanctuary Model.

For more research and publications on the Sanctuary Model, please visit

For more information on the Sanctuary Institute and trainings, visit their website