Strong & Proud

StrongProud_Card2If AHP’s Strong & Proud: A Supportive, Empowering Group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer People has a guiding principle, it might be expressed in the words of actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein: “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

The structured support group helps people confront the ways in which current experiences of homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and isolation can newly traumatize or rekindle the effects of past traumas. And it focuses on “in-the-moment” strategies to manage a range of symptoms.

“In addition to struggling with feelings of distress, LGBTQ-identified people with a history of trauma and substance abuse often find themselves isolated and marginalized from their communities,” said Stephan Ouellette, LCSW, Manager of AHP’s Psychosocial Support and Prevention Services Program. “The Strong & Proud group gives members the tools to begin to tolerate difficult emotions in the company of others, offering them a way to address both trauma and isolation.”

AHP based Strong & Proud on a group treatment program called Seeking Safety. The structure of Seeking Safety not only guides group activities, but also supports people who have experienced the chaos of trauma and models important skills in recovery from trauma and substance abuse: making good use of time, maintaining focus, and being organized. Each of the 10 weekly sessions begins with a check-in and a quotation—for example, Fierstein’s words—to inspire discussion relevant to that week’s particular topic.

Among the topics are:

  • Nurturing self
  • Setting boundaries
  • Asking for help
  • Developing healthy ways of emotionally “grounding” and “detaching” from pain
  • Productively responding to “triggers” that might otherwise get in the way of wellness
  • Being compassionate

“Coping, self-care, and managing stress aren’t easy for anyone. And they are especially challenging—and especially essential—for people with histories of trauma, substance abuse, or other mental health concerns,” said John Tighe, LCSW, co-facilitator of the group’s first eight cycles. “We’ve found that what makes this group special is that members have the chance to slow down to look at each of these topics in a concerted and conscious way. This leads them to refine and enhance how they take care of themselves on a daily basis.”

Each session concludes with a check-out and each participant’s commitment to a concrete strategy or behavior that will enhance coping and well-being and that each will seek to adopt before the next meeting. Tighe says it all works because of another key part of the group. Strong & Proud’s “LGBTQ-affirmative focus, helps members heal from the trauma of homophobia and transphobia while building a sense of connection with each other.”

To join the group, members must identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, meet income and insurance restrictions, and complete the AHP assessment process. For more information, call 415-476-3902 and ask to talk with the triage staff person.

After 24 years at AHP, John Tighe, LCSW has moved into a new position at the UCSF Student Health and Counseling Services, where he will continue his great work with the LGBTQ community. Strong & Proud is now facilitated by Saul Laird, LCSW and Clinical Intern Alex DeGrange.