Overcoming Sexual Trauma

Compass Community Schools deliver the New Ways therapeutic assessment and intervention programmes designed specifically for young people with complex backgrounds and concerning presentations. New Ways Safeguarding, is a psychology service which specialises in working with young people who have experienced early-life trauma and the impacts this can have. Childhood sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for their gratification, arousal or for that of others. Such experiences can overwhelm a young person’s self-regulation, threaten their wellbeing and indicate that the world is unpredictable, dangerous and uncontrollable. The focus is on processing trauma, developing healthy relationships and building resilience.

The Overcoming Sexual Trauma (OST) programme is a dedicated therapeutic intervention that can be delivered to children and young people attending Compass Community Schools as part of a triangulated approach alongside residential care, or while in a foster placement or in their own homes.

The Approach

The New Ways OST programme is guided by empirical evidence, recommendations from academic literature and clinical practice. It adopts a multi modal approach however, it places emphasis on a Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT), and an attachment informed framework. TF-CBT is an adapted form of cognitive behavioural therapy which addresses trauma-related emotional and behavioural difficulties which may emerge as a consequence of exposure to adversity. TF-CBT is proposed as the optimal intervention method for experience of complex trauma in youth, including experience of abuse and maltreatment (NICE, 2017, Gillies et al., 2016).

What we know from research and work with young people who have experienced sexual trauma is that they have often survived chaotic environments and been exposed to unhelpful beliefs and attitudes. Accordingly, the programme focuses on skills development, altering maladaptive beliefs and behaviours as well as fostering resilience and the growth of self-awareness and empathy. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with sexual trauma, and every instance in which a young person has experienced adversity has unique circumstances. Although the OST programme has been designed for particular presenting issues, the child-centred focus allows for tailoring the programme to the young person’s individual needs. The programme is supported by a multi-systemic approach which emphasises involvement of significant people in the young person’s world to ensure continuity, collaboration and collective support.

Programme Delivery

The OST Therapeutic Intervention is delivered by a Compass Programme Psychologist. Each school has their own Programme Psychologists, often on site. The intervention consists of an individual and a groupwork session each week. This work is supported by residential and/or education staff who have received specialist training in understanding, intervening with, and moving beyond sexual trauma. The school adopts a therapeutic approach to education and focuses on building resilience and reducing shame.

For young people in foster care and those living at home a there is the opportunity for psychoeducational work with their carers/parent. The work also includes periodic dyad sessions, as appropriate, where the carer/parent and young person meet together with the psychologist. The psychoeducational work is designed to help the carer/parent understand childhood trauma and its impact in order for them to better support their young person. The dyad work allows issues to be discussed within a therapeutic framework and for mutual learning and relationship growth to occur.

Each session in the programme adopts a child centred focus. This means work is carried out using a variety of multi modal approaches, for example, art work, imaginative play, storytelling, active exercises, music, video clips, creative writing, reflective role play, to name a few.

Individual therapeutic work covers more personal and sensitive issues, such as trauma exploration. However, emphasis is on seeing the young person as a whole and, accordingly, the overall intervention also looks at broader issues, the young person’s strengths, skills building, developing relationships, healthy thinking, positive communication and effective self-management in all areas of life.

The OST individual programme consists of 60 semi-structured therapeutic sessions. The programme is made up of 5 modules, with 12 sessions in each.

Group therapy has less of a focus on processing traumatic experiences and aims to support young people in putting their skills and learning into practice in safe environments.

The Referral Process

When contact is made with Compass about a service for a young person where there are concerns about sexual trauma we will undertake an evaluation of suitability and make recommendations as to what we can offer that young person. The evaluation of suitability determines if they have the capacity to undertake the OST programme and if they are likely to engage in a meaningful way. Sometimes, if for some reason they are not deemed suitable/ready we may suggest a different intervention suited to their needs. Following a successful evaluation of suitability, the Programme Psychologist will commence the OST intervention programme with the young person. This means work can begin promptly and essential rapport building can start without interruption.

Having undertaken approximately six therapeutic intervention sessions (typically one session from each module), a formulation meeting will be held between the Programme Psychologist, the Lead Teacher and the young person’s parent/guardian/key worker. During the meeting, the structured formulation document will be followed to guide reflection, identify the specific needs of the young person and formulate how the therapeutic package will best be delivered and tailored to meet these needs.

In line with the formulation, the young person will then continue to progress through the sessions of the intervention programme. An integrated, holistic report will be written by the Programme Psychologist, in collaboration with other professionals working with the young person, at the mid-way and end point of the intervention programme. The report will comprehensively document the young person’s therapeutic progress, key presenting issues and areas where further support is recommended. In addition to the psychological reports, half-termly and termly reports will be submitted by the education team and, where relevant, Residential Children’s Homes, to summarise the young person’s recent progress across the triangulated environments. The six-weekly report will be co-authored and holistic in approach.