Charlyn, grateful Trauma Therapy Program patient

Transforming Care for Survivors of Childhood Trauma

Charlyn seemed to have the perfect life: a beautiful home, a marriage and three healthy children. But behind the scenes, she was struggling with addiction issues and mental health concerns.

She just didn’t know why. “I was a mess, but I just thought that was my life,” says Charlyn.

Two years ago, Charlyn decided it was time to seek help at an addiction treatment facility. She was shocked to learn that her challenges as an adult were a direct consequence of her history of childhood trauma – experiences that had led to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was impacting her ability to process her feelings and navigate day-to-day situations.

“I didn’t know anything about PTSD, but I realized it made sense,” she says now. “My parents abandoned me as a child, and I regularly experienced abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to be caring for me.” Charlyn was referred to Women’s College Hospital’s Trauma Therapy Program (TTP) – one of the only therapy programs in Canada specifically designed for survivors of childhood trauma – and her whole world changed.

Addressing a major gap in care for survivors of childhood trauma

The Trauma Therapy Program was developed by Women’s College Hospital in 2005 in response to a lack of trauma-informed therapy programs across the healthcare system.

“Although studies show that nearly two-thirds of Canadians experienced some form of abuse in childhood, there was – and continues to be – an enormous gap in mental health services specifically designed for people living with childhood trauma,” says Dr. Dana Ross, a psychiatrist in the Trauma Therapy Program at Women’s College Hospital.

Trauma has wide-ranging impacts, affecting everything from how our brains process information to how we engage with people around us to how comfortable – or not – we feel in our own skin. 

“The Trauma Therapy Program has given me my life back. It’s allowed me to live my life authentically and take care of myself. And it’s let me know that I’m not alone.”

Charlyn, Grateful Trauma Therapy Program patient

“It’s crucial that people who have experienced childhood abuse – who are overwhelmingly women and people from marginalized communities – are able to receive care from health providers who understand the effects of trauma and are trained to accommodate the unique and often intersecting vulnerabilities they face,” says Dr. Ross.

The Trauma Therapy Program offers group psychotherapy that recognizes the unique social and cultural experiences of women and marginalized communities. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program pivoted to an online format to ensure patients could continue to receive uninterrupted care. As the organization continues to roll out its world-leading Women’s Virtual strategy, the virtual care model and new innovative digital tools will be deployed to help break down barriers to health services. 

A gift for the future of trauma-informed care

In early 2021, the Trauma Therapy Program received a major boost when The Slaight Family Foundation announced a transformational $1 million gift in support of the program. Women’s was among 19 Canadian organizations offering innovative mental health services that collectively received $30 million from The Slaight Family Foundation. 

The Slaight family’s extraordinary gift will directly support the Trauma Therapy Program’s implementation of community-based trauma therapy groups – both in-person and virtually – in six sites throughout Ontario. It will also enable the growth of trauma-informed mental health initiatives through the hospital’s Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health.

Ultimately, the family’s investment will enable the program to continue transforming the landscape of trauma-informed mental healthcare in Canada – helping more survivors like Charlyn access its life-changing benefits.

“TTP has given me my life back,” says Charlyn “It’s allowed me to live my life authentically and take care of myself. And it’s let me know that I’m not alone.”

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