Strength-based healing in Baltimore and D.C.
Story by CVT volunteer Patricia Busse
When a client walks into one of the Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma offices, they won’t be offered a cup of tea.
Instead, they’ll be directed to the center’s kitchen, and told where the cups are.
It’s one simple way the strength-based model—the idea that all people have the power within themselves to improve their lives—is woven into the clients’ experience at ASTT, which has offices in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
“I’ve always seen torture as a time when all of their power is taken away from them,” said Executive Director Karen Hanscom. “With that in mind, the last thing we should do is take any of their power away.”
The model dictates that clients help develop their own plan for healing based on their individual needs. One of Hanscom’s favorite examples, she said, is that of an Olympic swimmer who had been tortured by his government. When he came to the organization, he was in “horrendous” physical shape, she said, “but what he needed was to get swimming.”
His case worker helped him get a membership at a local pool. After he started swimming again, he was ready to start dealing with the other issues in his life caused by the trauma.
Psychotherapists and case managers consider themselves partners with the clients, and the focus of this partnership is on the client’s abilities and aspirations, according to ASTT’s website. Clients control the pace and direction of their healing efforts, helping to develop their own plan for healing and wellness.
Clients prioritize their needs—which could be psychosocial, medical or legal—and then establish specific goals with the help of their case manager, the website says.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Hanscom said, “but we help people find their answers.”
The ASTT Garden was designed, in part by clients, to be a healing, relaxing environment.
Other unique, client-driven paths to healing offered at ASTT include a photography workshop, a sewing group and a healing garden.
Clients work in the garden—located at the Baltimore office—and they also helped design it, she said.
One client said the garden needed a grassy area large enough for someone to lay down, stretch out their arms and look at the sky, she said. Today, she said, you’ll find the garden has a patch of grass just that size.
Although ASTT started in Baltimore, now 84 percent of its clients are being seen at the Washington D.C. office. The organization’s goal is to continue growing its Washington D.C. office, Hanscom said, to be able to serve even more survivors of torture.
“You just learn so much from survivors, the strength that they show despite all that’s happened is just awesome to see,” she said. “It’s just an honor that survivors have let us be part of their lives—that’s what keeps us going.”