From Harlem to the Lower East Side, the AIDS Service Center NYC (ASCNYC) is creating a blueprint for peer-led programs that help HIV-positive New Yorkers sustain recovery from addiction and trauma. The blueprint consists of safe spaces for women to talk about trauma, peer-led recovery coaching, and multiple cross-system supports. In March, ASCNYC staff and peers shared lessons from their women’s peer recovery programs during Altarum’s monthly behavioral health Twitter chat (#BHchat). ASCNYC is just one example of peer programs around the country that empower women to face a myriad of daily challenges, from trauma to staying clean, instead of isolating those experiences and making women and their children more vulnerable to relapse and further abuse.
Facing HIV and Addiction: How Do Women Recover?
ASCNYC delivers case management, HIV services, and peer-led mental health and addiction recovery supports to more than 1,800 clients in four centers around the city. More than 50 percent of women at ASCNYC need recovery support services, and a majority have experienced physical and sexual abuse that affects their ability to maintain recovery and manage their HIV. For ASCNYC’s clients, addictions and HIV go hand-in-hand.
Designed with the community and delivered by peers, like Ashley (pictured below), ASCNYC’s women’s recovery program is organized around these key components:
- A safe space to deal with trauma
Creating a safe space to support women with histories of trauma also helps them deal with an HIV diagnosis. That means women-friendly surroundings with trauma-informed staff and peers, and a safe, supervised child care and play area.
- Peer-designed, peer-delivered services
Peers—women with lived experience of addiction, trauma, homelessness, and HIV—send a powerful message of hope and resilience. ASCNYC trains clients as peer leaders who then run support groups and offer one-on-one recovery coaching. The agency developed its peer program with a grant for peer recovery support services from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
- Multiple, complimentary interventions
ASCNYC peers are trained to run multiple evidence-based interventions that address HIV, trauma, and addiction recovery; there is no one-size-fits-all. Plus, women face different challenges at different points of recovery and of HIV diagnosis and care. ASCNYC meets women’s needs with interventions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) like WILLOW, Seeking Safety, and Voices/Voces.
Holistic Peer Programs See Results Across the Country
New York is just one city using a peer-driven model to address co-occurring conditions for women, such as incarceration, addiction, and trauma. In San Diego, Welcome Home Ministries has a successful peer-run program supporting women in jails and prisons to get into recovery, build job skills, and reunite with their kids. All of Welcome Home’s case workers are graduates of the program whose lived experience forges a strong bond with women in the local criminal justice system. Women in New Recovery of Mesa, Arizona, a residential treatment and recovery program, meets women’s overlapping needs with individually tailored recovery programs that focus equally on abstinence and 12-step support, alongside nutrition, wellness, and job skills.
More traditional addiction treatment programs can take a page from ASCNYC and other’s success and get staff training in HIV and trauma-informed behavioral interventions to meet the needs of more women. The same is true for AIDS service organizations and HIV prevention programs when it comes to providing safe, recovery-oriented, trauma-informed surroundings and trained staff for testing, counseling, and care for women with or at risk of HIV.
Back in New York: A Message for the Mayor
The political landscape in New York will be changing with the mayoral election in Fall 2013. During Altarum’s #BHchat, staff and peers from ASCNYC and partner organizations sent a message to the main candidates:
ASCNYC’s peer leaders, just like women in communities across the country, are powerful advocates for recovery-oriented services and policies in their neighborhoods. The agency hasn’t thrown its weight behind a candidate yet, but the voices of its women in recovery are loud and clear. Watch for that endorsement.
- See more here.