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Breaking the Silence and Healing Trauma for Incarcerated Women: Peer-facilitated Delivery of a Brief Intervention

MOJ Women's Health
Nena Messina,1 Elizabeth Zwart2

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Peer-facilitated programs in corrections can be a cost-effective strategy to provide more opportunity for program services in prison. Brief interventions are also a valuable way to introduce programs to those assigned to short-term housing, while preparing them for lengthier programming once placed in permanent housing. The usefulness of brief interventions in substance use treatment has been extensively researched in the literature; however, the evidence regarding peer-facilitated programs with a trauma focus is less available. Given the extensive prevalence of lifelong trauma in the lives of justice-involved women, there is a vital need for trauma-specific interventions and research assessing both content and models of delivery. This pilot study assesses the effectiveness of a brief peer-facilitated, trauma-specific intervention among participants incarcerated at two women’s facilities in California. Healing Trauma1 is a 6-session brief intervention that was designed for women who have experienced trauma associated with adverse childhood experiences. The peer-facilitated intervention was delivered twice a week with two-hour long sessions in closed groups of 6 - 8 participants. The sample consisted of 682 participants who volunteered for the program and study. Data were collected prior to the start of the first session and upon completion of the last session on ten primary outcomes: depression, anxiety, PTSD, mental health symptoms, aggression, anger expression, anger representation, empathy, social connectedness, and emotional regulation. The results demonstrated strong support for the efficacy of Healing Trauma and a peer-facilitated model of program delivery. Participants exhibited significant improvement across 90% of the outcomes measured. Effect sizes were small to moderate in size, with the largest impact on depression, PTSD, and feelings of anger (Cohen’s d ranged from .51, .41, .42 respectively). The findings provide a knowledge base to create more rigorous studies for further exploration of outcomes.


Adverse childhood experiences, trauma-specific, peer-facilitation, brief interventions, corrections