Body & Soul

Established in 1996 to support children, adolescents and families living with HIV, we have pioneered a whole-person model of care that has since been extended to other groups, including children who have been adopted and young people who have attempted suicide. We have spent over 20 years working with people affected by HIV, but we have always been about more than a virus. From the beginning, we supported members in all aspects of their lives. HIV was one aspect, but we were determined that it shouldn’t define them.

One thing that our members have in common is that they generally present with a complex picture of interrelated needs, many of which stem from significant adversity in their past – whether that’s abuse, neglect, bereavement, family disruption or any other traumatic event. It is common for members to struggle with suicidal thoughts. The whole-person model of care we have pioneered through our work with members over two decades reflects the complexity of their lives. It is designed to address not just the symptoms but the root causes responsible for many of the health and social problems they face – traumatic experiences in their past.

We are now reaching out to new groups with similarly complex lives. We have launched programmes tailored to children who have been adopted and young adults who have attempted suicide. We know from research that they are more likely to have experienced childhood adversity than the general population. Our new members may not be affected by HIV, but they share a lot with our existing members. We know they can benefit from the whole-person model of care that defines our unique community. Body & Soul members are drawn from populations that are more likely to have experienced childhood adversity. We are currently running programmes for the following groups:

People affected by HIV
Our longest running programme is designed to support people of all ages who are living with or affected by HIV. The programme is tailored to the specific needs of different age groups, beginning with babies and children (0-10 years), followed by pre-teens (the Base group, 10-12 years), teens (Teen Spirit), young adults (20-30 years) and adults (30+ years). People can self-refer or they can be referred by health professionals or social workers.

Children and teens who have been adopted
Adoption is usually the result of some form of family disruption – whether bereavement, abandonment or an unsafe living environment – and our adoption programme has been developed to support young people through some of the challenges they face as a result of this trauma in early life. We work with three different groups within the adoption programme: we have the Young Explorers programme for adopted children between the ages of eight and 12; the Teen Spirit programme for adopted children between the ages of 13 and 18; and the Parents’ Place programme for the adoptive parents of Young Explorer and Teen Spirit members. People can be referred by their social worker.

Young adults who have attempted suicide
Our newest programme is designed to support young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who have attempted suicide or engaged in serious self-harm. We know how difficult the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be, and this programme is designed to provide continuity of support for people who are struggling with suicidality during this particularly sensitive period. Currently only residents of Islington are eligible to register in this programme, but we are seeking opportunities to expand in the near future. People can self-refer or they can be referred by professionals (e.g. teachers, social workers or health professionals).

How does your organisation contribute to preventing suicide and supporting those affected by it?

Body & Soul has always supported some of the most stigmatised and isolated groups in society. Many of our members have seriously contemplated or attempted suicide which led us to establish a programme specifically for young people who have attempted suicide as we have already been working with a member base who have had suicidal ideation.

We provide one-to-one therapies such as psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), life coaching and also complementary therapies.

We also provide family therapy, couples counselling and play therapy. Particularly key for the suicide prevention programme as family members are often first offered support once someone has passed away but not if the person has attempted suicide. We understand that the family dynamic may become strained when someone is struggling with suicidal ideation and self-harm and our approach at working with the whole family means that family members can be supported at an earlier stage.

As well as this then we have DBT skills groups and informative workshops which talks about issues that our members face such as bereavement, mental health and medication, mindfulness etc. We also have a casework and advocacy team who support members with practical issues such as homeless/housing disrepair, benefit applications and safeguarding, debts etc. As practical concerns can exacerbate poor mental health and therefore helps to tackle the practical and emotional support within the same organisation.

As our service nights always start with a meal then we are also part of reducing feelings of isolation and increasing feelings of connection.

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What are your current priorities?

We aim to increase resilience through providing members with skills, via DBT, to address four key elements; how to regulate their emotions, mindfulness exercises, interpersonal effectiveness and distress tolerance. These skills are part of helping members to control their emotions when they are feeling distressed so that it doesn’t reach crisis point. As well as also teaching young people to understand their emotions and breaks down aspects of their lives that are part of creating emotional vulnerability. This means that the person is able to understand why they are reacting to certain things more one day than another and also means that they can make choices that decrease vulnerability. These 4 skills combined are part of increasing resilience.

Having meals together, cooked by our chef, and DBT skills group sessions then we are part of decreasing isolation and loneliness. We also offer family therapy and couples counselling in order to improve current relationships as these can often become strained when a family member is struggling with poor mental health.

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What challenges are you currently facing?

We worked with a HIV community for the first 20 years and are currently establishing ourselves under the re-launch in mission statement of “transforming childhood adversity” as this better encapsulates all of the work that we do. A current challenge is to establish ourselves in the new mission as, despite it being something we already did, then it frames the work we do in a different light than previously.

The suicide prevention programme is the newest of our services and therefore means new partnerships and links have to be made to ensure relevant people are referred to the programme.

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