Project History - Additional Information

PTSD treatment for adolescent males and females within the juvenile justice system and children and Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau is considered to be a priority. Deb Ciocco, PTSD Project Coordinator, has worked intensively with the Department of Public Welfare to develop new promising practices that will provide intensive and seamless treatment for adolescent offenders who have a history of trauma. The Department of Public Welfare has provided $100,000 in funding to assist with the development and implementation of aftercare services for adolescents who have been exposed to trauma and are involved in juvenile probation through Westmoreland County. On July 1, 2009, the PTSD Aftercare Services Project was started with Adelphoi Village under the guidance of Deb Ciocco.

During recent years, PTSD has come to the forefront of required treatment services. Through continued education and training, service providers understand the essential need to develop effective treatment competencies associated with treating adolescents who have been exposed to trauma. The PTSD Aftercare Services program allows for a seamless application of treatment from all stages of a client’s treatment. This unique program has also allowed for Adelphoi Village to partner with Alternative Rehabilitation Communities in Carlisle, Pa in providing essential aftercare services for adolescent offenders from Westmoreland County. Each identified adolescent offender who is targeted for the PTSD Aftercare Services program is assigned a licensed mental health professional to assist with PTSD treatment planning while placed at Adelphoi Village, Alternative Rehabilitation Communities, or other agencies in Pennsylvania. The program also has implemented a systemic approach to effectively treating trauma as evidenced by the incorporation of family therapy to the program’s model. It is the goal of this service to not only build competencies in the adolescent offenders we service but also empower their primary caretakers with competencies to help them manage their child’s symptoms. A better educated and empowered system provides a stronger environment by which a client can achieve success. Upon successful discharge from Adelphoi Village or Alternative Rehabilitation Communities, the PTSD Aftercare Services therapist will continue to provide individual and family therapy to the client 90 days post discharge. Aftercare therapy is structured to provide multiple weekly contacts with the client and their family on a weekly basis.

“I never understood why I became so angry and sick to my stomach when I
smelled certain cologne. I learned through group that it [cologne] was a trigger for flashbacks. The person who sexually abused me reeked of this nasty stuff. I can deal with it now,I remind myself that I’m safe and that was in the past.”
testimonial from a former male PTSD-RTC participant.)

Male and females have different life experiences due to different gender roles. So it makes perfect sense that emotional symptoms following trauma can look different in males than they do in females. In today’s society, traditional gender roles most often dictate that males should be strong and in control of their emotions. How many TV shows, movies and music videos have you seen that encourages males to express their feelings and talk about situations they have been through? Not many. Instead, it’s “don’t be a punk, suck it up or don’t cry.” Males are often taught that the feelings and emotions they have after a trauma (shame, guilt, and inadequacy) implies they are weak. Believing this implication makes it much more difficult in the treatment process. They often do not want to talk about their trauma for fear how they will be perceived.

In working with the male population, it’s how the group is presented and set up prior to the start of the actual lessons plans that set the tone for successful group therapy. The time spent during the initial interview allows for each facilitator to make an emotional investment that is crucial to building a therapeutic relationship. The RTC group therapy encourages a sense of belonging, safety and security allowing for a therapeutic environment that enables the male clients to open up and share their traumatic experiences. The Trauma Focused Group Participation Agreement form is especially important with the male population as they respond positively to having a written contract that holds them accountable. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that each youth is committed to putting forth their best effort in making sure that the group setting is consistent in providing a safe environment where the participants will feel comfortable with making disclosures and seeking help. Stressing that they will never be forced to attend group or share when they are not ready, is essential in setting a relaxing tone and easing anxiety. Knowing this, they are much more receptive to the treatment process.

“I feel PTSD group is very helpful and that without it I’d still be wondering what made me so depressed. It’s hard to think about what’s happened in the past. I feel like I am going to get through these negative thoughts with staff and my fellow peers by my side.” (A testimonial from current PTSD-RTC participant.)

The traditional male gender roles of being strong and in control of their emotions can teach males to isolate and not share their personal experiences. But it can also foster male bonding; develop camaraderie and a sense of support. By time the clients complete the curriculum they tend to feel that they are part of a special club. It’s like belonging to a sports team, a fraternity or a military unit-they have all been through something and survived.