Q&A with Lori Criss: Helping Women to Heal
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Lori Criss, MSW, LSW, is an advocate for women in recovery as Chief Operating Officer of Amethyst. Amethyst is a leader in long-term, gender-competent addiction and trauma treatment for women who are homeless and their families in Central Ohio. Amethyst was founded by a group of women who were in recovery and wanted to create a safe place for women and children to recover. The HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans chats with Lori Criss to learn more about Amethyst’s gender-specific and trauma-informed services for women in recovery.
Q: Tell me about the need for gender-specific services for women in recovery from substance use, trauma, and homelessness.
Women and men have different experiences with substance use. We know that women tend to start using drugs and alcohol in relationship to others. For example, women often use with friends, significant others, or family members. Women do not usually start using substances on their own. As a result, women often enter into addiction in relationship to others. In addiction, a relationship with drugs or alcohol becomes a woman’s primary relationship. Her addiction becomes her primary motivating factor for all of her decision-making.
Q: How do relationships help women in recovery?
Women grow in relationship to other people. I believe women have a better chance of exiting addiction and recovering through relationships with other people. It is important for women in recovery to connect with peers who have similar histories and goals. These connections with peers and staff build their positive self-concept and help keep women accountable to their recovery goals. Amethyst creates opportunities for developing safe and healthy relationships. These replace relationships that promote continued use of alcohol and drugs and violence. At Amethyst we give women and children the opportunity to learn how to have healthy relationships in recovery and to practice these relationship skills. Our work is informed by the Relational-Cultural Theory of human growth, mental health, and social-psychological development.
Q: How do you support women in relationship to each other?
In the 1990s we realized that women with substance use histories are not a homogeneous group. Our staff created descriptions of the five different clusters of women we were seeing in our program. We examined life histories and found that women with similar histories, struggles, and resilient characteristics could really identify with each other. When we connected these women, we learned that they could help each other recover. In Ohio, there is a Coordinating Center of Excellence dedicated to the effectiveness of clusters, called The Cluster-Based Planning Alliance. Clustering is recognized as an evidence-based practice.
Q: Tell me more about this evidence-based practice. What are these clusters?
Working with women in clusters gives us a new way of approaching relationships and recovery with clients. It makes sense clinically and most importantly, the women have responded very positively. Amethyst is very client-driven, using client feedback to drive program development and improvement. The five clusters of women we work with are:
We have learned that women with co-occurring disorders require more time and resources to reach functional outcomes. We also learned that the longer women are engaged in treatment and have residential stability, the better their overall outcomes and functioning.
- Women with co-occurring disorders
- Younger women who were using crack cocaine
- Mature women who were using alcohol
- Mature women who were using crack cocaine
- Women who were using prescription drugs and opiates
Q: Does Amethyst provide trauma-informed services?
Women who come to Amethyst have histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Some women have experienced all three. We recognize that the psychological response to different forms of trauma is the same. Women need an opportunity to heal from trauma. They need to learn how to recognize trauma triggers and what they mean for sobriety. We provide trauma education. It helps women learn how to recognize and name their trauma, to de-escalate, self soothe, and move through the process of healing. Each woman is healing from substance use, homelessness, and trauma. Healing takes time. Amethyst provides women and their families a safe place to live and recover for up to five years.
Q: What supports do you provide for children of women in recovery at Amethyst?
Many women experience guilt and shame over what their children have experienced as a result of their mother’s substance use. For years, we have had local support for early intervention and prevention services to children ages 0 to 18 living with their mothers in our housing. This year, we are expanding these services through a grant from HHS’s Administration for Children and Families to provide therapeutic interventions for children and fully integrated family therapy.
Our staff focuses on teaching children how to live in a family in recovery. We want to show them how to do regular kid things like play and go to school rather than helping to manage the home. Staff also help youth build skills for preventing use of alcohol, drugs, or violence. Amethyst’s programming for children mirrors the programming for women. We emphasize giving both women and children opportunities to learn to communicate and build healthy parent-child relationships in the home.
Enhancing Substance Abuse Recovery Through Integrated Trauma Treatment
The Handbook of Addiction Treatment for Women: Theory and Practice
More Than A Place To Live
Standing Down for Women Veterans: One Woman’s Story
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Q & A