Gemma Harfleet shares her thoughts on the first few months of the new Trauma Stabilisation pilot; Outreach support for women who want to go to rehab but their trauma experience has made it difficult to get there or stay for as long as they need…
For years I have seen and felt the frustration of women with complex trauma and addiction being told they are too complex to access a service or they need to stop using substances to receive any support – as if they should somehow have held things together a bit better if they really wanted help. As a Specialist Women’s Worker with Fulfilling Lives, I’ve seen how tailored trauma stabilisation work in an outreach model can really make a difference and help those who’ve been all but written off. Training in trauma stabilisation shifted the way I was able to work by talking about the present symptoms of trauma and ways of managing this, so it doesn’t get in the way of achieving recovery goals. Now I’m excited to see what happens with a focus on trauma for women who want to go to rehab in Brighton.
We have fewer women going into rehab but they are accessing community support. There isn’t much research on why this is and what can be done to improve women’s experiences in recovery. We’ve known for a long time that men seem more likely to need the support of rehab. However, not a lot of attention has been paid to voices questioning if this might also be because women’s needs are often different. We know men and women survive addiction and homelessness differently – which often leads to more complex trauma because of domestic abuse and sexual exploitation.
Since the start of the pilot, I’ve been meeting with women in rehab, those with lived experience, with services that have supported them and those who work in rehabs. I wanted to know what preparation women had before going into rehab, what was their experience when they were there and what they thought was missing. Yes, I had this idea. But I wanted to check that it would meet the needs of women right from start. These women have been so generous with their experiences of addiction and rehab, sharing with the kind of infectious courage you get from people in recovery. We know more trauma support needs to be done with women in addiction but doing this survey made this even clearer. Particularly we are hearing how those supporting women can be understandably cautious about giving space to talk about trauma for fear of making things worse. However, I’ve experienced how building a sense of safety and having the training to talk about trauma (but not asking about specific experiences) can equip women with the understanding they need to start their recovery journeys. What women want is to understand their trauma, how it impacts them and those closest to them, to know it’s not because they’re broken and have a space to think about what they want to do about it.
Of course, we learnt so much more from these journeys and we will be bringing that together in a report to help guide the pilot. I’m also reaching out to other services in the city that support women – to work together, share resources and show the strength of the networks of women they can be a part of. We are not alone.
My thanks and appreciation go out to the BHT detox and recovery projects, CGL, Oasis, the Rita Project, Cascade Recovery, Nelson Trust, Jen at the Africa House café, Move-On, RISE and Threshold. None of them needed convincing, all of them have given their time and thoughts and many have also nominated women to the pilot.
Author: Gemma Harfleet
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