Building Resilience After Violent Experiences
Building Resilience After Violent Experiences (BRAVE) is a psycho-educational youth peer support group for individuals ages 13-18 who have experienced potentially traumatic events, including community violence. BRAVE groups are 10 sessions and promote healing and foster development of positive coping skills and emotion regulation. BRAVE was developed by CHOP experts and youth and is jointly facilitated by a peer mentor and Master-level social worker.
BRAVE is evidence-informed and utilizes a trauma-informed approach to foster recovery and resilience among youth. BRAVE integrates core components of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with a strong focus on the power of one’s thoughts and challenging underlying beliefs that influence behavior. BRAVE also draws on elements from the Theory of Interpersonal Neurobiology, helping youth to identify the connection between mind and body, mindfulness, and resilience. The combination of these theoretical components, delivered by a peer mentor who has experienced similar adversity, strengthens this intervention’s effectiveness.
The group curriculum was first introduced in 2015 to provide:
- Psycho-education around traumatic experiences and responses to trauma
- Coping skills to reduce post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms
- A safe space for youth to express their concerns and give and receive mutual support from peers
Currently, participation in BRAVE is limited to involvement in CHOP’s Violence Intervention Program or Family Advocacy and Support (FAS) Program. Like all of our Community Violence and Trauma Support (CVTS) programs, BRAVE participation is voluntary. At present, we enroll cohorts of youth three times per year (Spring, Summer, and Fall).
The BRAVE curriculum is best implemented with youth, ages 13-18 years old, and peer support groups are conducted in age and developmentally appropriate cohorts. BRAVE includes activities and content that require a certain level of emotional, social, and cognitive development. We have experienced that youth under age 13 may have more difficulty engaging with the materials and therefore not receive the greatest benefits. In addition, youth with acute mental health or safety related needs may be best served by other interventions. We assess youth to make sure that BRAVE is the best fit to meet their needs. We have found that many youth who may not initially be receptive to traditional mental health therapy have found BRAVE participation to help identify their traumatic stress symptoms and create a pathway for them to be open to receiving therapy.
BRAVE peer mentors are youth and young adults who have completed VIP or FAS services and participated in BRAVE youth peer support groups themselves. Peer mentors serve as role models for current program participants and enable youth to develop healthy and positive relationships with other adolescents. Peer mentors receive training and support from CVTS staff that extends beyond BRAVE implementation to prepare them to pursue continued educational and career opportunities.
We believe youth find meaning in working closely with peer mentors who have overcome similar adversity. Similarly, peer mentors value the opportunity to create space for youth to foster hope and continue their recovery from trauma.
We have limitedly evaluated BRAVE to date. Results of early evaluation efforts suggest that participation in BRAVE peer support groups may contribute to a clinically significant reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). Further, during or after BRAVE, 1 in 3 participants has identified mental health needs, including individual therapy, suicide safety planning, or medication management, indicating that youth peer support groups may serve as a gateway to longer-term mental health services. Feedback from youth, highlighted in the graphic below, also indicates the power of group interventions in fostering connection and safety.