Zoë Reynolds is the Head of Pathways and Programmes at Body & Soul and has worked in the field of psychology for over 12 years across private and public sector services, in therapeutic and management roles. She outlines a new psychotherapeutic service for NHS staff and their families, who have been psychologically affected by Covid-19.

It is no secret that our NHS staff are facing a daily onslaught of pressure and pain right now. Not only that, but they will each have their own experiences related or unrelated to their work that continue to intersect with the unimaginable. There are their families and loved ones who, although not directly on the frontline, will undoubtedly be privy to and affected by their ongoing trauma. The wholeness of this experience needs a space to exist and Body & Soul have stepped in to provide just that.

Being trauma-informed is in no way a novel concept to Body & Soul. Born out of the HIV pandemic where the multiple needs of women and families were not being met, the charity was able to get off the ground quickly (with near to no money or resources) to support them practically, psychologically, but most of all relationally. Building a community founded on human connection has been integral to the transformational ethos that has seen many who would have otherwise been left behind, to thrive.

When Covid-19 struck, there was an instantaneous sense of duty for Body & Soul to draw upon their extensive experience and quickly respond to this time of collective trauma. Indeed, the years of frontline exposure and learning allowed this to happen very quickly - there is no reinventing of the wheel going on here. Having already started to consider how our proven model of support could extend to those in healthcare settings prior to the pandemic, we knew we had to create a space that made sense for our NHS staff working on the frontline – not just the doctors and nurses, but all staff immediately exposed to this punishing environment. BRAVE has become that space.

It feels imperative to distinguish that this psychotherapeutic space is not a crusade to combat inevitable PTSD, but instead a recognition of the ongoing nature of the trauma being experienced, and the removal of assumption that Covid-19 must be the only challenge in the lives of NHS staff. We know that trauma doesn’t just affect the person on the receiving end, that the disruption it causes can have an insipid effect on those surrounding an individual. With this in mind, BRAVE support extends to loved ones too, whether this be a partner using the call-back service themselves, or children and extended families discovering ways to cope and stay connected through our BRAVE Families resource. Healing is not a solo expedition.

In an ideal world, such a service would be designed in collaboration with the community it seeks to serve. The immediacy of the current situation and the fact that the event is not over somewhat stands in the way of this approach at this early stage. However, Body & Soul recognise that this is just the beginning of a dedicated holistic service for NHS staff experiencing collective, mass distress. In hosting a service with the sole aim of creating a relational landscape within which to listen and hold a person, with no agenda or assumption as to where their pain is sourced, we as a community will be objectively learning about what should come next. Through its evolution, BRAVE will in time undoubtedly offer opportunities for co-production with the NHS staff who have used the service to ensure it stays meaningful to those who will continue to need it.

It is not shocking to imagine that emotional responses to such distressing events will be longstanding. Indeed, it will be key to understand and confront this reality, as opposed to viewing distress through the lens of mental illness to be treated. The effects of collective trauma are rarely alleviated through a single intervention. This is where the uniqueness lies in BRAVE; we understand the importance of a relational and multifaceted approach for healing, we always have, and now we are in it for the long haul for our NHS workers too.