This document outlines a plan to implement a yoga group for young people participating in a homelessness transitional accommodation program. A significant proportion of them have experienced trauma. The innovative group has been developed to provide support for mental and physical health, opportunities for socialising, and recreation.
To begin, the client demographic will be discussed. Secondly, yoga and trauma theory will be presented. The logistics of the group will then be explained, and potential issues will be considered. An evaluation method is also included. Finally, a discussion of the possible social impacts of the group, in light of key social work themes, will be suggested.
This is a real-life group plan that will be offered in a youth homelessness service located in Sydney, Australia. The organisation has been de-identified to protect the privacy of the people involved. For the purpose of this paper, the organisation will be named, The Service.
The Service support young people aged 16-24 years old, who are experiencing, or are at risk of homelessness. They are provided with safe, stable accommodation for up to two years. Case management is provided alongside to support the young people to reach their goals and move towards independence. Furthermore, young people have access to living skills development, therapeutic and psychological support, education and employment opportunities, and recreational activities.
The young people come to The Service for a number of reasons, notably: homelessness, family breakdown, exiting out-of-home-care, mental ill health, drug and alcohol misuse, grief and loss, domestic violence, and the experience of trauma. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 90% of the young people have experienced some form of trauma (personal communication, 2016). The Service works from the therapeutic framework of Trauma Informed Care and Practice (TICAP). This model acknowledges the adverse impact that trauma can have on the mind, body, development, and relationships of survivors (Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). In TICAP, therapeutic relationships are categorised by an emphasis on restoring and cultivating a trauma-survivors’ sense of safety, trust, and choice. Staffs are non-directive, instead acting as a collaborator with the young person to support their empowerment (Clark, Classen, Fourt & Shetty, 2015).
Yoga developed in India and has been practiced for over five thousand years. The teachings have been traced back to the Vedas and Upanishads, which are sacred Hindu texts. Throughout time, yoga teachers and practitioners adapted the practice, creating a yoga philosophy, spirituality, and practice not confined by the structures of any individual religious tradition (Emerson & Hopper, 2011). Emerson and Hopper (2011) state, “yoga as a practice has survived the millennia mostly because of its expansive and inclusive nature; it has been adaptable to the needs of highly disparate cultures from ancient India to modern-day New York City” (p. 27).
Modern-day yoga practices predominantly consist of a combination of breathing exercises (pranayama), poses (asanas), and meditation. Different orientations have variations of intensity. The Service yoga group will adopt a simple, trauma-sensitive approach, focussing on: connecting movements with breath, beginner-level classic postures, and relaxation techniques (Van Der Kolk, 2014). The group program will be delivered in partnership with another Sydney based non-government organisation, who employ qualified volunteer yoga teachers using trauma-sensitive yoga principles. Further to this, the mind-body studio of a local gym has been donated for use.
Trauma has profound impacts. It can be toxic to the body; people may experience a cycle of hyperarousal and/or dissociative numbing. Survivors often feel out of control internally and externally. They can experience unbearable pain. Impulse and affect regulation can be inhibited, and negative self-perception is common (Emerson, 2015). Yoga targets these symptoms in ways that traditional therapeutic approaches often can’t.
Trauma-sensitive yoga attempts to support participants to develop awareness of the mind and body connection. In turn, self-regulation capacities are cultivated, which can be applied in daily life (Emerson, 2015). Van Der Kolk et al. (2014) assigned a group of women diagnosed with PTSD to a 10-week trauma-informed yoga group. At completion, 52% of participants no longer met criteria for the disorder. They found these effect sizes comparable with pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic interventions (Van Der Kolk et al, 2014). “Yoga may improve the functioning of traumatized individuals by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and affect tolerance (Van Der Kolk et al., 2014, p. 1). In short, yoga can help people restore control in their life (Emerson & Hopper, 2011).
Young people are a dynamic demographic who have fast changing interests. In order to sustain engagement, The Service yoga group will run for a trial period of six weeks (Laser & Nicotera, 2011). The group will be advertised on the notice board inside the service. Furthermore, staffs will promote the group at house meetings and during individual case meetings. An essential component of TICAP is choice. The framework suggests that positive, sustainable change is possible when a client is able to make decisions about their own life, without influence and direct assertion from a third party (Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). For this reason, the group will be open. Participants can choose if they’d like to attend, and for how long. This approach contrasts traditional social work groups, which often ask participants to commit to attending for all nominated sessions (Gitterman & Salmon, 2009). In saying this, an open group is youth friendly, and it fosters a sense of trust and agency (Steele & Malchiodi, 2012).
Sessions will be weekly for an hour, on a weekday afternoon. There are 26 young people participating in The Service program currently. The yoga group will be open to all. Initial feedback has suggested up to ten will participate (personal communication, 2016). To support the group, two yoga teachers will be present; one will lead, and the other will provide individual guidance and support when required. Furthermore, two staffs from The Service will attend to address any other potential issues, particularly if any young people feel emotionally or physically unsafe.
Risk assessments will be completed before the group begins. Staffs will be aware of potential issues and the necessary control measures to be taken. 24 hours before each session, the young people will be sent a text message asking for them to confirm attendance. Once the participants are known, The Service staffs will assess any potential conflict in the group dynamic and develop control strategies if needed. Additionally, young people will be unable to participate if staffs identify that they appear intoxicated. These processes will ensure that young people, volunteers, staff, and other stakeholders are kept safe, and that the young people are given a fair opportunity to benefit from the group (Gitterman & Salmon, 2009).
Feedback will be gathered informally through conversations between volunteers, staffs and young people. A questionnaire will enrich this (Krysik & Finn, 2013). The Andrews and Withey (1976) “Delighted-Terrible” social wellbeing scale has been adapted and changed to a Terrible-Awesome spectrum. Terrible is a score of zero (0). Awesome is a score of seven (7). Four (4) indicates a neutral feeling. Delighted was replaced by Awesome to appeal to a contemporary youth discourse (Laser & Nicotera, 2011). Participants will anonymously score themselves before and after each session. Further to this, two open questions will ask, “What did you like about the session?” and “What didn’t you like?” The simple mixed-method questionnaire will be used to evaluate the group program and assess its value (Krysik & Finn, 2009).
The Service yoga group will address some of the fundamental ideals of the social work profession. The Australian Association of Social Workers (AAWS, 2016) state that, “social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing…social workers maintain a dual focus on both assisting with and improving human wellbeing and identifying and addressing any external issues” (para. 2 & 4). The individual benefits of the yoga group have been discussed. On an external level, notions of power can be considered.
Power is an omnipresent dynamic in both macro and micro level structures and relations. Social workers and the agencies that employ them are unwittingly afforded a sense of power in the lives of the people and communities they support (Fook, 2016). As a symbolic and practical gesture to acknowledge and address this fact, The Service staffs will participate in the yoga group with the young people. It is hoped that the staffs and young people may experience a sense of oneness, collaboration, and equality. With regards to power, Fook (2016) states, “It is therefore conceivable that both less and more powerful people can work together to create situations in which all experience empowerment. If effect, more power can potentially be created” (p. 70).
Yoga is an ancient practice, which is adaptable for different groups. This paper has outlined a plan to offer a yoga group to young people who are participating in a homelessness transitional program; many of whom have experienced trauma. The Service supports the young people using a trauma-informed care and practice framework. The model emphasises safety, trust, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.
In partnership with two other agencies, a trauma-sensitive yoga group will run for a trial period of six weeks. Yoga develops mind-body connection awareness, and self-regulation skills. The group aims to address trauma symptoms through this. By offering an open group, The Service aims to empower choice and cultivate an environment where volunteers, staffs, and young people share a sense of power, resulting in an environment of equality. The group will be evaluated through a mixed-method questionnaire measuring self-assessed wellbeing.
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