Survivor Recovery Center helps trauma victims heal
By Aren Dow:
On the opposite wall of Sicely Kluge’s office, past the dinosaurs and the art supplies, hangs the starting point for many of her patients’ sessions: the snack center.
It looks like one of those over-the-door shoe organizers – about five feet tall with pockets in rows – but instead of shoes, there are fruit snacks and juice boxes tucked inside, the ideal comfort food for her 5- to 17-year-old patients. It’s an optimal starting point to help her young patients relax and start their healing process.
Kluge is a licensed clinical social worker for the Survivor Recovery Center (SRC) at SIU School of Medicine, an individual therapy center for those who have experienced trauma related to crime within the past three years. Initially funded in October 2020 through the federal Victims of Crime Act, then passed through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the Center feels less like a clinic and more like a friend’s home.
A calming light lavender coats each of the rooms. Duplos and fidget spinners rest on a table in the kids’ waiting room area. Or for the ones who really want to move, a couple of hula hoops wait to spin. Nearby is a pantry where kids can grab a package of raisins for a snack or pasta for dinner. If their toothpaste or other hygiene items are running low at home, they can grab an item from the shelf below.
This helps create an inviting space for all to help work through trauma, a topic that’s becoming more accepted to acknowledge publicly.
“I think there’s more talk about trauma, more movies about therapy that are opening up people’s eyes to its importance,” says Jill Koester, LCPC. “We want to make sure all genders and races are comfortable coming here.”
The SRC works with those aged 5 and up in Sangamon County and is based on the Trauma Recovery Center (TRC) Model – assertive outreach with community organizations to help meet patients where they are, leading to case management with evidence-based treatment. SIU Medicine’s Center is one of 44 nationwide. As of March 2023, 285 intakes have been completed with 171 served in Year 2.
Not every room has dinosaurs and snacks, of course – therapy is designed for the person’s needs. But for the younger individuals visiting Kluge at the SRC, “playing is the biggest way kids learn and heal.” While some teenagers may feel like they’ve aged out of the many toys around the room, seeing teens interact in a playful way can be incredibly fulfilling.
“A lot of them have to take on some of the parenting roles at home,” Kluge says. “Here, they get the opportunity to just be a kid again.”
Once an individual is identified to have experienced trauma related to crime in the last 3 years, the therapist performs an intake assessment before starting 16 individual sessions. Beyond the weekly sessions are frequent wellness checks. Then, after “graduating” from the program, the SRC sets up a “warm handoff” to help continue progress. The average amount of time an individual is in the program is around 11 months.
There is structure to help move someone toward a healthier life, and plenty of flexibility regarding the patient’s needs in dealing with trauma.
“I think everyone in the world of therapy talks about boundaries, and we definitely do have boundaries,” says Jeanné Hansen, clinical director of the SRC. “But you can’t work that closely with people on a weekly basis and have them tell you these horrible, awful things and not have them touch you.”
“We worry when they disappear for several days. We’re frequently calling in wellness checks because they’re working hard too.”
After the SRC intervenes in times of high crisis, Koester says the program equips clients with the tools and resources necessary to handle future life events.
“I know of someone who’s not far into this, but she’s come so far,” Koester says. “She was in an abusive relationship and has lots of childhood trauma. Addiction was masking emotions that were negative and the response was always anger.”
“If I asked, how do you feel? She’d say, ‘I’m mad.’ But looking deeper, now she’s able to say, ‘Oh, I’m not mad, I’m feeling hurt or lonely, and here’s why.’”
Koester’s patient is hardly alone. While being a victim of a crime in the last three years is the requirement to be seen, there are often additional trauma events in someone’s life.
In fact, 6 out of 10 patients acknowledge two separate “presenting victimizations” (PVs) at initial patient intake, ranging from domestic violence to child abuse to sexual abuse. Often, that number increases as patients are more comfortable sharing their stories.
One in 6 patients presents with four PVs at initial intake.
The Departments of Family and Community Medicine and Psychiatry provided the majority of referrals when the SRC first opened, but now that community outreach continues to blossom, as individuals come in from a wide range of places. Non-profit organizations like The Phoenix Center and Sojourn Shelter & Services, Inc., along with government agencies like DCFS, the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office, and Springfield Police Department, are a few of the organizations that have helped direct individuals. Collaboration goes beyond referrals, too. The police department asked the SRC to help with a mock hostage situation to better learn how to help individuals in those situations, and that partnership continues to evolve in positive ways. SRC staff now regularly provide trauma-informed care awareness training to area law enforcement officers.
“As trauma-informed care professionals, we can give them feedback – this is what we’ve heard, here are some thoughts on other ways that you engage and interact with people in the midst of an ongoing trauma,” Hansen says.
In addition to their counseling services, Survivor Recovery Center staff provide periodic trauma-informed care training to members of the Springfield Police Department.
“They’ve been so receptive. They asked us to create a scenario because they’re wanting it to be someone specific to having a mental health crisis. We’re creating that for them.”
When Hansen was young, she visited her older sister in her apartment complex and heard a domestic violence situation taking place upstairs. As she watched her sister call the police, one thought ran through her head, “someone needs to intervene, someone needs to be there for people.”
Now she’s a part of an 11-person team at SIU Medicine specifically trained to help people process, understand and heal from situations exactly like that.
“I think it’s important to recognize the warmth, the dedication, the passion that you feel from everyone in this building,” she says. “That passion speaks volumes about this place and why we’re different."