Gill and our Telehealth Support Service

Gill Harmon – Virtual Family Support Practitioner

I’m Gill and I’m fairly new to Scottish Families yet I feel like I have been here much longer. It is an exciting time as we have three new staff members joining the team. It means I will already be passing on the title of the new girl. But I have never written a blog before so I am clutching on to ‘the new girl’ title for now! I have spent the last hour of this cold Sunday afternoon googling ‘how to write a blog’. The main tip I have picked up is to pick a topic that you are passionate about. I am confident I have a passion for the work I do at Scottish Families so I am on to a winner from the start.

Scottish Families is a lovely team to be part of and I enjoy my job. It makes getting up out of bed a whole lot easier. I love that Scottish Families supports anyone worried about someone else’s alcohol and/or drug use. We see family at its broadest term and I share this view. I am at my happiest when I am surrounded by the people I love. I count the lucky stars that I have people that I can call on in life.

I work across the Telehealth and Bereavement services. My role in each service is very different yet the idea of family members getting support is at the heart of both. In the work I have done in the past, I have always delivered support to people face to face. Despite this, I haven’t struggled to build rapport with people over the phone. The Telehealth service covers the whole of Scotland and lets people access support over the phone, email or online. Family members may already face many barriers and stigma due to their loved one’s alcohol or drug use. People who live in remote and rural communities or people who, for whatever reason, can’t access face to face support also encounter many barriers. I see it as my role to ensure these barriers are reduced.

People can be referred to Telehealth by webchat, phoning our helpline or sending an email. I recognise that it can be very daunting to ask for support. In the initial call, we try and make the person feel at ease.  Telehealth is usually a phone call per week for 4-6 weeks but this is not set in stone and we tailor the service to individual needs. Whether it is emotional and listening support or more structured support. We will work with family members to identify these.

For a lot of calls, we use a method called CRAFT which stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy. CRAFT is evidence-based and the three main goals are: to improve the functioning of the family member, to reduce a loved one’s harmful drinking/drug use, and to get a loved one to access treatment.

Telehealth allows family members to focus on self-care and taking a step back from behaviours that they have no power over. I recognise that becoming stronger and putting boundaries in place can seem unsettling. We aim to guide the person through these changes and help them set achievable goals. For one lady recently, she was to do one thing for herself before our next call. The one thing that she chose was to have a long hot shower without feeling guilty that she should be doing something else and that she was putting her needs first for this short time.

As well as self-care I would say another main focus of Telehealth is communication styles. At first, we do not focus on speaking about their loved one’s alcohol or drug use. The aim is to begin to repair their relationship. In Telehealth, a session can be used to help a family member frame a conversation they want to have with a loved one. I always ensure that I explain to family members that we all fall into conversation traps in everyday life. An example of a conversation trap may be lecturing or blaming.

Family members express the positive changes that Telehealth support has made. Not only to their lives but also to their family member’s lives. One comment that sticks out to me is when asked if a person had any advice for other family members. They responded:

seek advice as soon as possible for support and know you are not alone’

This is a very weighted quote. For me, it highlights the feelings of isolation that family members affected by alcohol and drugs feel while reassuring people that there is support available. The team at Scottish Families will continue to strive for families to be supported, included, recognised, connected to communities and are a movement for change.

– Gill

If you want to know more about telehealth and are concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. Contact us by:

  • Phone: 08080 10 10 11
  • Email: helpline@sfad.org.uk
  • Webchat: www.sfad.org.uk

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