Newsroom

Our Stories

Life After Trauma program first step towards recovery

Toronto, October 6, 2015

By Greg Winson

Word cloud about mental health

Trauma suffered in childhood – such as emotional or physical abuse – can significantly affect a person’s physical and mental health well into adulthood. To help these people finally heal, social workers in the St. Michael’s Academic Family Health Teams began a Life After Trauma program that has treated more than 200 people.

The program teaches life skills in a group setting over 10 weeks. For most it’s their first interaction with a mental health setting.

“We give people the skills to start to understand how their beliefs and behaviours are connected to the events of the past,” said Celia Schwartz, a social worker based at the Health Centre at 80 Bond.

Patients may have physical ailments such as fibromyalgia and chronic pain or destructive behaviours such as substance abuse or eating disorders. Although they may not be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, they will identify the root cause of these behaviours as traumatic abuse in childhood such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Shirley Bell
Academic Family Health Team social workers: Celia Schwartz, Heather Campbell, Amy Babcock and Ashley Shultz. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)
“Our group caters to individuals who are able to identify and want to work on this issue,” said Schwartz.

The need for the Life After Trauma program arose when the number of referrals was greater than the team could handle on a one-to-one basis. The group sessions host an average of 10 participants. There are few resources available elsewhere in the city, especially for men, and they often have lengthy waiting lists.

The program is based on several sources including the book “Life After Trauma,” which was adapted to the primary care setting by Schwartz and fellow social workers Ashley Shultz, Amy Babcock and Heather Campbell. Schwartz and Babcock co-facilitate the women’s group and Schwartz and Campbell co-facilitate the men’s group. Social work students are also involved, observing sessions at first, and later co-facilitating a session as part of their Master’s program.

   Evaluation comments from participants in the Life After Trauma program:
  • “I think the stories I heard from other women were a very big part of the healing for me and having the chance to say things out loud I hadn’t said before. Specifically, I feel like there are things I can do to take care of myself when things are tough and I can go back and look at materials.”
  • “I got the strength to say “No” to the things that were going on in my life that were making me sick.”
  • “It has prompted me to challenge my ‘core beliefs’ which for me has been huge and helpful. I know it will be a tool I need to use for the rest of my life.”

There are three core modules – trauma symptoms, core beliefs and triggers. The program consists of understanding key areas impacted by trauma: relationships and self-esteem and how to cope with impacts that most survivors feel such as shame and anger. Patients in the program learn from each other in group discussions and through class exercises.

“It’s a way of opening up a discussion when people haven’t had it before,” said Schwartz. The program acts as a first step towards recovery.

“It’s focused enough with sizable goals that look at how we move people forward in a realistic manner,” said Schwartz. “We want to have enough impact that we’re getting people in the right direction.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.