In her Sept. 20 plenary session at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), women’s treatment expert Stephanie S. Covington, PhD, recalled angry reactions from nearly three decades ago when she told a conference gathering of professionals to discuss topics of violence and sexual abuse with patients.
“When they were saying their clients were not ready, what they were really saying was they were not ready,” said Covington, co-director of the Institute for Relational Development and the Center for Gender and Justice.
Covington’s talk focused on why it is essential for addiction professionals and programs to become trauma-informed, taking clients’ trauma into account and avoiding triggering trauma reactions in the individual.
She emphasized that rather than hesitate to discuss past traumas, clients often are looking for an elusive opportunity to unburden themselves. She recalled the case of a 75-year-old woman who said, “I thought I’d go to my grave carrying this story.”
Covington described the concept of gender-responsive services as “creating an environment that reflects an understanding of women’s lives, and accounts for their strengths and challenges.” As more services are tailored to these needs for women, more attention is being paid to the trauma-related needs of men as well.
Some of the factors that make a treatment program trauma-sensitive can come down to items as basic as the lighting in a parking lot, the look of a waiting room, or the welcoming voice of a receptionist, Covington said. “When someone comes for help, does it feel like a safe place?” she said.