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What enhances the formation of social bonds and facilitates better engagement and retention in an addiction service?

The launch of a research project, which investigated the role that social bonds play in improving engagement and retention in an addiction service, took place in the DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences last week.

The findings are as a result of a research collaboration between Dr. Gerard Moore, Daniel Phelan, Dr. Rita Glover and Dr. Catherine McGonagle of the DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Clódagh O'Sullivan of St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin and the staff and service users of the STAR Project Ballymun.

The purpose of the research was to explore if there are key skills that staff members at the STAR Project Ballymun use or particular ways that they relate to service users which help with the formation of social bonds, which in turn leads to increased levels of service user engagement and retention.

The findings showed that STAR is very successful at engaging and retaining service users and it is their ability to form strong social bonds which is the key to its success. This is achieved through the philosophy of the project which is made up of three central tenets: a non-punitive approach, person-centred care and trauma informed care. The person-centred care approach facilitates the formation of a partnership between staff and service users in which they work together to achieve personalised recovery goals unique to each individual service user. The non-punitive approach stipulates that service users are not punished or judged for having a relapse, which results in the reduction of shame and the promotion of honesty. This non-punitive stance is experienced by service users as facilitative to their recovery, with some participants reporting that this approach was less evident in other models of addiction treatment. Trauma Informed Care allows service users to seek appropriate treatment for any possible underlying issues they may have, allowing them to fully engage in the service.

The three interrelated strands of STAR's philosophy produce an approach to the treatment of substance misuse that is considered by staff and service users to be unique and different to many mainstream addiction models and provides a platform for the formation of social bonds. The philosophy also shapes therapeutic alliance, cohesion between service users, a safe environment and the staffs' approach to service provision, each of which in turn aid the formation of social bonds as people strive to recover from substance use.

Photo (left - right): Dr. Gerard Moore, School of Nursing and Human Sciences; Katy McAndrew, STAR Project Ballymun; Daniel Phelan, School of Nursing and Human Sciences; Dr. Catherine McGonagle, School of Nursing and Human Sciences; Dave Fennell, STAR Project Ballymun; Dr. Rita Glover, School of Nursing and Human Sciences.

4th December, 2018