A PRODUCTIVE AND HAPPY LIFE
IS NOT SOMETHING YOU FIND;
IT IS SOMETHING YOU MAKE.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH & WELLNESS
In 2021, Nonviolence Chicago completed our strategic planning process. One of the most important findings was the need to address staff health and wellness or to heal our healers. Thanks to a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, we created a new Behavioral Health and Wellness program. This ambitious yet essential program has a dual purpose— to increase staff wellness and resiliency against the impact of trauma, which will in turn increase staff’s capacity to provide in-house behavioral health and wellness services directly to participants.
We strive to heal our courageous staff as they faithfully work to heal others.
Trauma is much more widespread than we have acknowledged in the past. We have to make sure we’re getting services to our team like we haven’t done before. And that’s priority #1 – the wellness of our outreach workers. –Sunil Garg, Nonviolence Chicago Board Member
Frontline workers at Nonviolence Chicago are effective at building relationships with those most effected by violence and mediating conflict because of their lived experience, knowledge of the community, and street credibility. They are from the very communities they serve, and many have been either victims of or lost someone close to them to gun violence or were involved in street organizations. Their intimate knowledge of gun violence in the community makes them uniquely qualified to do critical violence prevention work. They know the trauma community members are experiencing firsthand, and even though they have made changes toward a life of Nonviolence, many of them still carry the weight of past trauma. Now in their professional roles, we ask them to relive past trauma as they intervene in ongoing community violence.
The transition from a warrior to a peacemaker is really dangerous. –Teny Gross, Executive Director
We ask our staff to work in potentially dangerous situations with high-risk individuals. We ask them to put their life on the line to prevent violence because they have been effective at doing so. All this has the potential to create anxiety and fear for them in the present and future, and some staff worry daily about getting hurt or shot on the job. As a former Nonviolence Chicago participant and current Outreach Worker, James Mitchell, says about the impact his trauma has on him daily, “It’s hard doing this everyday…It’s crazy when you live it and you want to change it, but you got to keep reliving it. I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to keep having these images. I don’t want to keep getting angry.”
We have a moral responsibility to take care of James and all frontline workers — physically, emotionally, and mentally. We must address the continuous trauma that we ask them to risk exposure to as part of their work. In essence, we expect them to create a safer city regardless of its impact on them. At Nonviolence Chicago, we believe that we have an obligation to take care of them.
Kelly Carroll, LCSW
Behavioral Health & Wellness
Kelly Carroll has worked with survivors of trauma for over 13 years in various clinical settings. She was most recently a trauma specialist at Chicago CRED where she trained staff in trauma-informed care practices and oversaw the development and implementation of a cognitive behavioral intervention designed to build resilience from trauma. Kelly lives in Portage Park with her husband and twin four-year-old children. For fun, Kelly enjoys distance running, discovering new restaurants, and sunshine.
Nonviolence Chicago is committed to our frontline workers’ health, safety, and wellbeing. As a result, we have created a Behavioral Health and Wellness department led by trauma specialist Kelly Carroll. Kelly will lead the development and implementation of supportive trauma services and interventions, both for staff and participants.
This is an in-depth program with multiple phases of implementation that will take place over the next three years. The first year includes three key phases:
PHASE 1: Information Gathering. Assembling a staff working group to collectively lead the development of the wellness program will increase buy-in and trust among staff, as they will be guiding the intervention and program elements. Building trust and focusing on emotional safety is a priority in this phase and will continue to be during the implementation phases occurring in the second and third year of the program.
PHASE 2: Staff Wellness Assessment and Organizational Needs Assessment. This phase will include learning what staff know about trauma and its impact, identifying their current coping and resiliency skills, and exploring how they view their own sense of safety and wellbeing. Assessing organizational functioning is as important because we do not want to operate under procedures that reinforce the negative impact of trauma or lack support around trauma experienced by staff. This assessment includes an examination of all Nonviolence Chicago’s current policies and procedures and observing them in practice to see if they are beneficial or harmful. Interviews and surveys with staff will be key.
Outreach workers’ lived experience is full of trauma. Their professional career is full of trauma. Our #1 issue is to address and build capacity around wellness for our team. We need it in house and across the organization. We need to revisit our policies and procedures to ensure that we are providing trauma responsive systems and supports to everything that we are doing. –Lisa Stephens, COO
PHASE 3: Analyzing Assessment Findings. When we analyze the needs assessment findings, we can use that knowledge to develop the content of our interventions. For staff, these interventions will likely include components of psychoeducation, resiliency skill building, and enhancing workplace social support, as well as a feasible means to address past trauma. We aim to see:
Overall staff wellness and job satisfaction
Sense of physical and emotional safety
Ability to cope with stressors
The level of community gun violence
Symptoms of PTSD and other mental health challenges
For the organizational component, interventions may include identifying which policies and procedures need changes and creating a process and timeline for making these changes for the betterment of staff. Organizational goals include:
Adherence to the principles of Trauma Informed Care
Attitudes Related to Trauma Informed Care
The level of community gun violence
While working through the first year of program development, Nonviolence Chicago recognizes that some staff need support now. As a result, we have begun providing “wellness coaching” to staff seeking a safe space to process current stressors through enhanced social support. Additionally, we aim to contract a licensed clinician to provide trauma and grief therapy for staff who are currently struggling. We are also piloting a new cognitive behavioral skill building intervention founded in the principles of Nonviolence and social justice (CBI for Nonviolence) with two staff cohorts rolling out in late 2022. This intervention will fuse coping and trauma resiliency skills with the principles of Nonviolence which guide our organizational mission. This approach utilizes supportive relationships as a source of healing while equipping individuals with specific skills to build resiliency against anxiety, stress, trauma, and depression. Examples of Cognitive Behavioral Intervention (CBI) skills included are emotional awareness and regulation, interpersonal effectiveness skills, problem solving skills, and value-based living. Staff will ultimately be able to teach this set of skills to participants as a part of Nonviolence Chicago programming.
An effective way to train people to deliver CBI skills to others is to teach them to use the skills in their own lives. Not only do they get the knowledge of the skills, but they also get hands on experience practicing them and subsequently become more regulated and resilient themselves, increasing buy-in. When staff learn CBI skills and integrate them into their daily life, they can more authentically model the skills for participants who suffer from similar traumatic experiences. While integrating participant interventions won’t happen formally in this phase of program development, we still believe participants will benefit from seeing staff modeling CBI skills in their interactions.
Why Cognitive Behavioral Interventions and
Not Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ?
Our frontline staff are not licensed therapists. But they can learn intervention skills and teach them to others. You don’t have to be a therapist to deliver a clinical intervention.
Clinicians training community health workers is not a new concept. This approach helps to bridge the mental health treatment gap at a primary care level.
Read more about similar interventions.
We are excited about this new program which addresses the health and wellness of our most valued assets—our frontline workers. We are also thrilled that our staff is very welcoming of it, as they are aware of their past and continuous trauma and are ready to start the healing process.
What our staff is saying...
I’m excited that we are making a better atmosphere and doing what we can to work to our full potential. I want our workplace to be more like home, like a sanctuary, a place for relief for staff. –Carlos Colon, Victim Services Supervisor
Nonviolence Chicago will continue to provide updates on our progress. Transparency around how we take care of our staff’s wellness is just as important as transparency around our program efficacy. We believe in this work because we believe in our staff—without them, the civilian architecture could not work. We have a responsibility to take care of them.
As we develop this behavioral health and wellness program—asking our own staff to be vulnerable and do the challenging work that healing requires—we ask our supporters, our neighbors, our Beloved Community to be patient and have faith in us.
The best thing we can do right now to increase our capacity to serve the community and reduce violence is to take better care of our staff. The healthier they are, the more effective they can be. And more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. –Kelly Carroll, Associate Director of Behavioral Health & Wellness
This program is very ambitious, and we know change takes time, but our staff, our healers, and our city are worth it.
For more information, contact Kelly Carroll, Associate Director of Behavioral Health & Wellness @ (312) 833-0354 or @ firstname.lastname@example.org.