Morgan Shields and Elizabeth Solomon
Trauma during early childhood can lead to various forms of psychological suffering and maladaptive behaviors later in life. Mindfulness training has been shown to help individuals break free from this suffering by building the skills necessary for resiliency. Mindfulness enables individuals to become aware of their internal states and external surrounding in ways that are non-judgmental. Such non-judgmental awareness enables individuals to better regulate their emotions and cope with life-stressors. Moreover, mindfulness is especially effective with populations having experienced interpersonal trauma, such as sexual abuse; therefore, it is a perfect fit for the women at Jane Addams Place. I propose a two-level implementation of mindfulness training.
First, I propose the training of staff in mindfulness and in leading meditation groups with both women and children. By having the staff and guests working towards mindfulness together, the shelter will likely develop a “mutual mindfulness” culture, which will promote trust, transparency, safety, peer-support, and mutuality. Though the shelter already has trauma-informed trainings for staff, mindfulness is distinct. Moreover, the skills gained from mindfulness are not specific to dealing with just trauma, but cut across many contexts and domains of everyday life and is a great compliment to other therapies.
Secondly, I propose the creation of a product tentatively named the “Mindful Headband,” which can be given to guests to take with them either when they leave the shelter or when they arrive. The Mindful Headband will discreetly hold a pre-programmed MP3 play as well as headphones. Though not desirable, there is the potential for these women to face non-stable housing situations upon leaving the shelter. Therefore, we want to minimize the risk for targeted theft, which is why we will hide the electronic within a non-assuming garment. These MP3 players will be pre-programed with many different mindfulness trainings and meditation soundtracks, including tracks geared towards children. In providing Mindful Headbands, it is our hope that these women and their children will be able to continue to stay connected with mindfulness after leaving the medication groups at the shelter, and will be able to do so discreetly and amidst any potential noisy situations.
Traumatic experiences during childhood often create situations that necessitate adaptive response patterns; however, as the individual grows older, these response patterns fail to be functional. Mindfulness involves practicing awareness of one’s emotions, thoughts, and patterns, while responding to such awareness in ways that are open instead of judgmental, self-hating, or defensive. Mindfulness training has been studied extensively among trauma survivors. Research has shown that mindfulness training can change brain structure, physiological response patterns, and emotional reactivity. In particular, mindfulness has been shown to decrease shame-based responses, which are common response patterns among survivors of sexual abuse and are associated with poor self-concept, poor decision making, and overall psychological suffering.
Mindfulness has been implemented among trauma survivors and among individuals experiencing homelessness. This legacy is important in ensuring us that our proposed program will be feasible and impactful. Our project is original, however, in that we are proposing to implement mindfulness training within the entire shelter, targeting the sustaining culture, while also working towards the sustainability of mindfulness practice among each individual guest by equipping them with the Mindful Headband. Of course, these headbands are not a substitute for therapy, but they will provide individuals with the healthy coping strategies and support in times of need. To our knowledge, this is the only “product” of its kind that comprehensively uses a trauma-informed approach to improve the wellbeing of women and children experiencing homelessness. While either stage of this proposal can stand on its own, we think that the Mindful Headbands will be most effective if coupled with emersion into a mindful culture and face-to-face practice with staff workers and peers. Conversely, we believe that the sustainability of mindfulness gained through practice at the shelter will be better ensured if coupled with the Mindful Headbands, so that guests can be reminded and supported outside of the shelter environment.
The impact of this project will be felt on many levels and impacts many stakeholders.
We will first note the impact to the women guests. As stated, mindfulness equips individuals with the tools necessary to not only deal with the past and future experiences that may be perceived as negative in nature, but enables individuals to process information (including one’s own emotional states) in ways that are productive and healthy. We believe that being a guest at a shelter that has a mindful culture, in addition to learning how to meditate, will also encourage healing processes.
We need to also mention the benefit to children. These children are likely to also suffer, as homelessness by itself can be very traumatizing for both children and adults. Mindfulness training will help these children cope with their experiences and will give them the tools necessary to be resilient.
Finally, mindfulness training will help the entire staff at Jane Addams Place. Service-oriented positions have high rates of burnout. Mindfulness has been shown to prevent and mitigate burnout. Moreover, “mutual mindfulness” has been shown to provide the strongest climate for both staff and service-users to function at their best.
Mindfulness trainers exist in close proximity to the Jane Addams Place. These trainers have established curriculum to work from. In that regard, there is minimal preparation needed in order to implement the training, other than figuring out organizational logistics (e.g., scheduling and space).
The Mindful Headbands will need to be manufactured. However, we are simply combining two products (i.e., MP3 players and headbands) and not reinventing the wheel. It is possible that we will need volunteers to place the MP3 players into headbands, which might take several weeks to execute. However, it is also possible that we will be able to have the entire product manufactured (because MP3 players inside of headbands is an established concept in the market). The chose between the two options will be determined by the difference in price and the ability to secure discounts and in-kind donations. We have contacted MP3 manufactures and have been told that the MP3 can be preprogrammed and locked, so that files cannot be added nor deleted. Further, we have several relationships with individuals who might be able to help us get foundation, institutional (i.e., Harvard), or even corporate support.
Do the production costs decrease as the number of units produced increases?:
Space and Staffing Required:
Yes. For phase one there will need to be space for guests and staff to meditate. In the beginning weeks and months, the meditation sessions will need to be led by at least one staff worker. Ideally, all staff will integrate mindfulness and will make sure to practice with guests when the schedule permits. However, once there is a cohort of guests who have practiced mindfulness for an extended period of time, some mindfulness sessions can be led by the guests. This approach promotes peer-support, mutuality, and empowerment, while also lessening the demands on the staff.
Does your product require training of shelter staff to use appropriately?:
For phase one, staff will need to be trained by a certified mindfulness teacher. The training will last for 8 weeks (once per week for 2.5 hours at a time).
As mentioned previously in this application, the mindfulness training will be self-sustaining as long as the shelter makes it a priority and engages with the mutual mindfulness concept. Mindful Headbands are a real unique aspect to this proposal and we believe are integral to the long-term sustainability of mindful practice for guests. Of course, not everyone will need these products in order to continue their practice, but providing the support for all will allow us to have a far-reaching impact upon the lives of the guests. We believe it is smartest to first pilot this program among the first 100 guests and to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in order to substantiate a larger project aimed at implementing this program at various shelters. The Mindful Headbands are not expensive to maintain, especially if a larger grant is secured after this pilot.
Mindfulness training has been conducted in many settings with many different populations. This program will be able to be replicated with ease and with the consideration to certain organizational constraints and variations.
One purpose of piloting this program and product is to evaluate its effectiveness. Evaluation of the first phase will be a one-group pretest-posttest design. First, we will need to collect baseline information from guests regarding level of mindfulness and psychological wellbeing. We will also collect information on staff’s level of mindfulness, psychological wellbeing, level of burnout, and organizational social context features (i.e., the culture, climate, and morale). We will then evaluate these constructs after each three-month increment.
Evaluation of the Mindfulness Headbands will be more difficult and will depend upon the organization’s established framework of staying in-touch with guests after they leave. Evaluation of this phase can be figured out in cooperation with the shelter. One option is to ask for feedback via an internet platform (depending upon the availability of internet to guests when they leave) in exchange for a gift card (or a gift card after so many responses have been received).