Carly Dawson, Head of Quality and Performance, gives some insight into Phoenix Futures’ Ophelia House, a Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Community developed to meet the needs of women who require abstinence-based residential treatment in a safe and therapeutic environment.
The differences between women and men who use substances and access treatment are widely documented. We know that women are more likely to be involved in sex work, have more extensive histories of trauma and abuse and have greater caregiving responsibilities.
Women are more likely to encounter additional barriers such as stigma, housing instability, lack of childcare and fear of losing custody of children. It is thought that when women access services, their needs are greater than men’s. Women present with higher levels of distress, mental health needs, and complex inter-related family issues.
There is a direct correlation between early trauma and drug misuse, with women often using substances to self-medicate mental health issues stemming from early life experiences and trauma. Research has found that women who experience domestic abuse are eight times more likely to have substance use needs compared to those who have not.
Traditional treatment services tend to be male-dominated environments that cater for the majority and overlook the specific gendered needs of women. Despite widespread acceptance of the need for women-only treatment services, there is a distinct lack. Women’s only environments can help foster healthy attachments, provide positive peer reinforcement through shared life experiences, strengthen self-expression, and help individuals develop skills.
Ophelia House, delivered by Phoenix Futures, is a Trauma Responsive Therapeutic Community developed to meet the needs of women who require abstinence-based residential treatment in a safe and therapeutic environment.
The programme, delivered by an all-female staff team, is based on the Therapeutic Community model where social relationships, daily structures and various activities are deliberately designed to support health and well-being. Women live together and learn from each other. The community helps individuals emotionally and supports the development of behaviours, attitudes, and values of healthy living.
The structure supports the whole person and acknowledges that substance misuse is not an issue that can be addressed in isolation from many other factors impacting mental, physical and emotional well-being. Our treatment service provides ‘psychosocial support’, which refers to the actions that address both psychological and social needs of individuals, families and communities.
We have worked with partners across the substance use sector and alongside women with lived experience to develop the service, creating an environment to serve better those who have experienced trauma. For those women we spoke to, the majority felt there needed to be onsite counsellors and mental health support. They also felt the group programme needed to be gender specific and responsive to the needs of women in treatment.
The Ophelia House programme seeks to provide a safe and empathic therapeutic environment to address gender-specific needs and develop social skills such as validation, empowerment, and empathy, which have been considered critical for attachment and recovery in groups of women.
Our model has been developed using evidence and best practice around trauma-informed approaches to care, with staff trained to recognise and respond sensitively to the effects of trauma. Being trauma-responsive, we have carefully considered the layering of a holistic group programming, the needs of the physical environment, our use of language and our values.
Our history of providing gender-specific residential treatment has shown us that women-only services, characterised by all-female residents and staff teams, can provide a specially designed environment and programme delivered by an appropriately trained staff team to help women feel safe. This sense of safety and trustworthiness enables honest and open discussions about shared women-specific issues, creating an improved community of support and empowerment between residents and a focus on building individualised and highly personalised skills and resources to aid long-term recovery.
We created our treatment programme to be reflective if this. Offering a minimum three-month programme incorporating a range of sessions aimed at supporting recovery from trauma as well as accredited workshops, and therapeutic activities, including the Freedom Programme.
The structured group programme enables people to share and learn together in groups facilitated by expert staff. We take a holistic, trauma-informed approach, addressing physical and mental wellbeing through a range of health and wellbeing activities, including regular yoga and gym sessions and regular participation in Recovery Through Nature.
Our Recovery through Nature programme enables people to come together with a common purpose to complete conservation projects. Being with others, exercising together and working to create a positive environmental impact is proven to aid a sense of belonging and in turn, mental well-being. We bring together these core interventions and other specialist interventions, such as 1:1 counselling to support trauma, mental health and substance use so that they fit together in a blended approach to care.
The Ophelia House team comprises a Psychologist, Counsellor, Registered Nurse and Therapeutic Workers in a multidisciplinary team. They work together across different care disciplines to create a safe therapeutic environment to deliver coordinated and personalised trauma-responsive care bolstered by the peer support of a Therapeutic Community.
Ophelia House offers 26 single en-suite bedrooms, including those adapted for women with mobility needs. We listened to those with lived experience who expressed that the physical environment can impact an individual’s sense of identity, worth and dignity and its role in individual mood and well-being. We mobilised the design concept to ensure the physical space promotes a sense of safety and is calming for people accessing treatment and those who work there.
This blog was originally published by Phoenix Futures. You can read the original post here.
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