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Home Women and Trauma

Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM)

An intervention program designed for women survivors of trauma

To address issues of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse in a population of overwhelmed and vulnerable women who have histories of trauma, and for whom traditional recovery work has been unavailable or ineffective, Community Connections developed a theory-based group intervention program called "TREM," or the "Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model."

TREM's 4 core assumptions:

  • Some current dysfunctional behaviors and/or symptoms that women exhibit may have originated as coping responses to trauma.
  • Women who experienced repeated trauma in childhood were deprived of the opportunity to develop certain skills necessary for adult coping.
  • Trauma severs core connections to one's family, one's community, and ultimately to oneself.
  • Women who have been abused repeatedly feel powerless and unable to advocate for themselves.

TREM Program Format:

TREM is structured as a comprehensive group intervention program of 33 sessions offered over a 9-month period for trauma victims, led by trained women clinicians. Each session takes about 75 minutes and usually includes between 6 to 8 group members. The 33 sessions or topics are divided into the following sections:

Part I -- Empowerment (11 topics)
Introduces themes of gender identity, sexuality, interpersonal boundaries, and self-esteem without specifically addressing abuse issues.

Part II -- Trauma Recovery (10 topics)
Focuses on sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and their relationship to psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse, and current relationships.

Part III -- Advanced Trauma Recovery Issues (9 topics)
Examines further trauma issues such as blame, responsibility, and the role of forgiveness in recovery.

Part IV -- Closing Rituals (3 topics)
Allows group members to assess their own progress and are encouraged to plan for their continued healing either on their own or as part of a community of other survivors.

Part V -- Modifications or Supplements for Special Populations
Consists of modifications or supplements for special populations (women diagnosed with serious mental illness, incarcerated women, women who are parents, women who abuse, male survivors).

Each session also includes an experiential exercise (physical activity, poetry, singing, drawing, storytelling) to promote group cohesiveness and to allow for the inclusion of less verbal members.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

The Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM)

What is TREM?

"TREM," the Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model, is a comprehensive group intervention designed to help women who have suffered from sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse and who have not been able to overcome this trauma with traditional recovery work. This approach emphasizes survivor empowerment and peer support, teaches techniques for self-soothing and recognizing social boundaries, and helps women learn to focus on manageable steps of problem-solving.

Why does TREM work?

TREM has been shown to work because it:

  • Uses a group format;
  • Uses a psycho-educational focus and skill-building approach;
  • Emphasizes survivor empowerment and peer support;
  • Teaches techniques for self-soothing, boundary maintenance, and current problem solving;
  • Is culturally sensitive;
  • Is sensitive in the areas of sexual orientation/relationship status; and
  • Can be used with women of all ages.

Who should use TREM?

  • Clinicians already doing trauma recovery work
  • Clinicians who plan on doing recovery work and want a step-by-step guide for group work
  • Residential, rape crisis, or hot-line counselors working with trauma survivors
  • Human services graduate students seeking a model for understanding trauma and its sequelae
  • Clinicians in mental health, substance abuse, prisons, and welfare-to-work programs who recognize the impact of trauma in the lives of women they serve

Who is using TREM now?

TREM is being used in outpatient mental health settings, homeless shelters, welfare-to-work programs, and corrections facilities (prisons). Several family court systems have also expressed interest in receiving training for their social workers to lead TREM groups with women in their systems. While it was designed in Washington, D.C., TREM is being used in other urban areas such as Philadelphia and Boston, and in more rural areas such as some in Colorado and Illinois.

Who developed TREM, and why?

Women who have experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse in childhood, and who live in the social, emotional, or economic margin as adults, rarely fit neatly into existing treatments for trauma recovery. These women almost always lack the economic resources needed to participate in individual therapy; they are judged to be too emotionally fragile or disruptive for most group therapies; and they do not have the social supports needed to sustain participation in standard self-help formats. Yet, these women present themselves for treatment at public clinics, through employee assistance programs, and at non-profit social service agencies in ever-increasing numbers.

When Community Connections first opened its doors, it did not envision that it would be doing trauma work. Over 90% of Community Connections' "consumers" ("survivors," "ex-patients," or "clients"), however, who have histories of mental disorders, substance abuse, and/or homelessness also have experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. Community Connections therefore found that it could not deliver the services it was mandated to provide without addressing the often overwhelming histories of trauma that its consumers (clients) had suffered and survived. With considerable input from consumers and clinicians, Community Connections has been designing intervention approaches that are different from what most of the existing literature describes to meet the needs of these women in a comprehensive manner.

Community Connections saw the need to create an intervention that dealt with the fact that many of the women themselves did not view abuse as their primary problem but had rather labeled themselves in other ways, such as complaining about depression or anxiety. They may suffer from physical ailments such as headaches, muscle pains, or stomach aches. Sometimes they reveal that they have had difficulty forming relationships or that they drink more than they feel comfortable admitting. Occasionally, they report having been victimized by current domestic partners and having experience bouts of homelessness. Almost never do these women link current difficulties to past abuses. In part this is because the link has never been made for them.

For more information on TREM, contact:
Rebecca Wolfson, M.S.W.
Training Coordinator Community Connections
801 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Suite 201
Washington, DC 20003
202-608-4735 phone
202-548-4898 fax
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