What programs can help women deal with childhood trauma? How can we share what we've learned at Women's College Hospital?

Dr. Catherine Classen is passionate about improving care for women who have survived childhood trauma. In fact, she wrote the book on it - or at least edited it - with her 1995 text for clinicians, Treating Women Molested in Childhood.

Dr. Catherine Classen and Eva Maria SternThe opportunity to work with clinicians is what attracted her to Women's College. "In the past, I had to create a clinical environment by recruiting therapists into studies. As the academic leader for Trauma Therapy Program at Women's, I could plug into an experienced clinical team that was absolutely eager to do research."

The clinical team in question run WRAP (Women Recovering from Abuse Program), an eight-week day treatment program that helps women with painful histories build skills to cope with daily life. "It is one of a very few day treatment programs for women who have histories of severe childhood trauma," says Classen, "Even fewer programs have evaluated what they do through scientific study."

Eva Marie Stern is Art Psychotherapist at WRAP, who helped create the program. "As clinicians we all had different experiences in mental health working with women who had been abused. We used our best judgement to cobble the program together, and over the years we built on what worked best."

After nine years of existence, the WRAP team has a wealth of practical experience. This ongoing program is eight weeks long with intensive sessions four days each week. "By the end of a woman's involvement in the program, the therapists often see significant change in these women," says Classen. While our therapists know clinically that women benefit from this program, it is important that we demonstrate this empirically. With research evidence we can disseminated the program to other groups. That is something our therapists are passionate about.

"We want to be able to show the world that WRAP works" echoes Stern. This is how it works. This is why it works. These are the people that it helps most." The last point is particularly important says Stern. "We want to know why the program seems to do a lot of good for some women, and be of less benefit for others. If we can figure out what the differences are, we can do a better job of offering the right services to the right people."

To accomplish these goals, a rigorous assessment of the program is now underway. Every woman who approaches the Trauma Treatment Program is asked to complete a standardized assessment before she begins treatment and at various stages throughout her involvement in the program including an assessment 6 months following completion. Ultimately the team hopes to gather enough data to provide empirical evidence for WRAP and to integrate that evidence into a manual helping others set up similar programs. Already the team has begun to publish about WRAP in academic journals.

"There is a tremendous interest in the WRAP model of group therapy," says Classen. She cites the demand for WRAPback, an educational process that the clinical team uses to share their practical knowledge. "Half or more hospitalized psychiatric patients have a history of trauma," says Classen, "yet trauma treatment remains a specialty that most mental health professionals are not trained in. To make a difference for women beyond those we serve directly, we urgently need to share what we have learned here."