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Running the alcohol recovery day programme during COVID-19

Ben Parker, Senior Peer Support Worker & Group Facilitator, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust

Every day I work with those who have struggled with alcohol and substance addiction. We run a ‘Recovery Day Programme’ as part of rehabilitation in the community. It helps those who have struggled with substance use to come together to develop tools for their well-being and personal growth and strategies to prevent a relapse.

Prior to the pandemic, our three-month abstinence-based programme was heavily focused on in-person contact and group work. However, the lockdown quickly changed that, forcing us to think on our feet and adapt our programme so we could provide ongoing support to our clients at a distance.

We had to think around the problem and utilise technology.

We encouraged our client’s set-up on WhatsApp and Zoom allowing us to keep the group connected. It was vital to ensure continued group support, and to stay in touch

virtually to allow meaningful interventions. Within two weeks we had successfully built an adapted programme online.

However, some were digitally excluded so we ensured that they wouldn’t miss out. We posted the group work to complete with a self-addressed envelope to return. We also ensured that these clients were called more regularly to receive support. When initial restrictions were lifted, we set up a conference facility in the office to allow for group work, while the rest of their peers met on Zoom.

It is amazing how tech can be an effective way to reach out beyond the service, and to help in its support. Given the lockdowns every one of us knows the importance of remaining in touch with our loved ones. Some people who are alcohol dependent may have lived a chaotic or unmanageable life style, resulting in difficulties with close relationships. It was truly rewarding that this time and our engagement with smartphones actually helped a client to see his Mum for the first time in a year. By showing him how to share video through WhatsApp he is now better supported at home. We are now in talks about rolling out digital devices to those who may be excluded from accessing interventions which are facilitated on a virtual platform.

This hybrid model has enabled us to better cater our support to people’s lives, allowing people to get help how best they choose – either in-person or online – whilst still allowing them to stay connected. We were extremely conscious that people didn’t lose out who couldn’t access technology, but have noticed that others, especially with childcare needs or have cultural stigmas around treatment, were more willing to participate. It has been described to me as a blessing in disguise and we have seen younger people and those with physical difficulties state that this is a better format for them. Zoom has broken down barriers.

This change, which came out of necessity, will likely become the new normal going forward.