The unheard Catch-22 within therapeutic communities during COVID-19
It is safe to say it has been a surreal and challenging time over the past few months for us all. We already felt it was a difficult time in our sector as the policy of austerity had a real impact on referrals and choice for the individual. Over the past couple of years fewer local authorities are funding residential rehab at a time when there has never been a greater need for people to access residential rehab. A classic Catch 22? What seems a dystopian world. A loss of individualism. As a staff team and on a personal level as a Manager it is easy to be despondent, to feel like giving up, to feel undervalued. These feelings are magnified for those that need to access treatment. It all sounds like it should be a place of despair, but it is the opposite. We offer a Therapeutic Community but far fewer people get the opportunity to experience it.
I often hear people do not like change yet that is what we expect of our community members. We ask them to change in a very short period of time. To adapt and accept this process, to recognise the long-term benefits of this, accepting how difficult it will be. We are working with those who feel excluded from society, isolation is not new for many we support. But they now know the value and power of community. So, in some ways as a staff team we are now learning from our community how to deal with exclusion, how to deal with a lock down situation, the value of being connected as a community. It has been the classic community as method approach.
The weekend before lockdown came into effect I changed the timetable and cleared the morning of all groups. I wanted staff to be able to connect with the community on the floor. To interact on a one-to-one basis. To experience the TC with the individual. At first several people wanted to leave. No clear plan just not this plan. A few did leave. Admissions stopped. Very quickly there were no visitors except deliveries or emergency work. There was a real danger of fear driving people away from support when they needed it most, so I knew the staff would be important in keeping people in the service. But staff also had their fears. Fear of the unknown really. We didn’t know what lay ahead or how our lives would change and no one could appreciate how our working lives would change.
Yet there was a feeling that we had to do this together, that now, more than ever, we had to be a community that supported and learned from each other. This extended to the staff team. Several staff were off at the start either with symptoms or through someone in their household having symptoms. I was off as well for 14 days through my partner’s symptoms then I felt unwell. This was common amongst the staff team and like everyone, it has been the uncertainty that has been more challenging. For several staff it has been a feeling of wanting to be in work to help but knowing that you can’t put others in danger. But things have moved on from that initial fear and absences. April saw no staff absences. Staff are getting work from home days as there are too many staff members in the service for social distancing to be effective. Staff showed tremendous commitment, recognising the importance of working as a team and supporting each other. I even had to say to them they had to take annual leave in order to get a bit of time and space away from work. We now feel we have achieved something as a community.
At present, we are near full occupancy and starting to get a bit of movement out of the service to our housing service and back to people’s own tenancies. The programme has changed with more community led seminars like Why Vegan?, Dealing with Eating Disorders, Transition, and People Who Inspired Me as titles of seminars delivered by community members. Recovery through nature and arts are now prominent in the programme. We are growing our own veg and community members are teaching others how to play guitar. The creative intervention groups are proving popular, and we are now facilitating online groups through Phoenix Connects and the community members can access other online groups. We stay connected. Perhaps through this difficult time we have learned that through adapting we can grow as a community to be even stronger.
We have stayed at home, stayed alert….and are better for it.
Written by David Brockett, Head of House at the Scottish Residential Service.