Q&A with Paula Shields from Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.

Q&A with Paula Shields

Programme Director at Rise

BSc Psychology, Diploma in Women’s Studies, Certificate Counselling Skills,

Certificate Teaching & Management (Education), PTTLS Cert in Education & Training, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP), Certified Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Professional (CDBT). EMDR (Level 1)

Paula Shields is the Programme Director for the Rise Programme at The Cabin Addiction Services Group. She joined The Cabin Group in 2017 and is primarily based in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

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We caught up with her recently in Thailand to discuss her role and to find out more about the newly launched Rise Programme; Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Paula?

My interest in Women’s Health, stemmed initially from having lived experience in addiction and trauma, which became a powerful driver for change for me once I recognised that change was actually a possibility. Educating and empowering myself came hand in hand with my desire to reach others, particularly women, with the same knowledge and skills that can make recovery a possibility for them also.

My hobbies are hiking & climbing in the mountains, drawing and reading, personal development, laughing – a lot!

Can you talk us through your career journey?

I began my career in the field of addiction treatment in 2001, when I worked within an HIV Support Centre as an Auricular Acupuncturist in the North of Ireland. I later went on to become the Support Services Coordinator.

I have worked alongside clients from all walks of life; from those living with and affected by HIV to individuals experiencing homelessness due to addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. During this time, I noticed that many of my homeless clients were unable to read and write, which prompted me to return to university to complete a certificate in the Teaching and Management of Literacy and Essential Skills and afterwards to obtain a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) qualification.

In 2009, I joined the UK wide charity Youth at Risk as a Trainer and Enrolment Manager, delivering intensive personal development courses to “at risk” young adults, educators and

communities. My passion to educate and empower people to seek recovery led me to undertake further training in evidence-based CBT and Family Interventions.

More recently, I have worked at the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) as a Training and Development Manager, delivering learner-led peacebuilding initiatives to communities involved in conflict resolution and community development. In 2013, I returned to the clinical setting, initially at the Castle Craig Hospital for addictions, where I worked for two years, before moving to Abbeycare Group Addictions Services (Scotland), where I worked as an Admissions Coordinator for in-patient addiction treatment programmes.

I moved to The Cabin Group in 2017, and in my current role as Program Director with The Cabin, I was involved in designing and implementing the new gender-responsive, trauma-informed treatment programme ‘Rise’. As well as being a group facilitator and holding my own caseload as an individual counsellor, I am also responsible for overseeing the entire programme delivery to all clients.

As part of the Rise programme, I deliver both addiction and trauma-informed treatment to clients, as a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) and Certified Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Professional (CDBT), as well as being trained in Eye movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) (Level 1).

What led to you relocating from the UK to Thailand? When and why did you join The Cabin Group?

I wanted to return to client facing work after a brief period as an Admissions Coordinator and was put in touch with management at The Cabin. I loved what I heard about their work and decided to pursue a short term contract for experience and adventure. Once here, the opportunities to continue to develop myself professionally and personally were apparent, as too were the possibilities of the work that could be created for the clients. It was an obvious choice to stay.

What is the official mission statement of the Rise programme?

Empowering people to seek recovery and live in possibility

What makes the Rise Programme different to other treatment facilities for women with trauma-informed addiction, and what is unique about your programmes?

Despite clear evidence that most women who are seeking treatment for addictions have been exposed to early and multiple traumatic experiences, standard treatment programs do not typically assess or target these traumatic experiences, which can hinder or prolong their recovery. We are incredibly proud to have founded Asia’s first gender-responsive trauma-informed addiction programme.

What are the benefits of a single-sex treatment programme for trauma-informed addiction?

Research shows the effectiveness of gender-specific programmes during the first stage treatment for trauma-informed addiction. At Rise, we have designed a single sex programme run by women for women.

What types of therapeutic treatments, themes, skills, processes and changes can a client expect to encounter?

The 10-week Rise programme is delivered in the heart of Asia using Western treatment methods combined with Eastern practices and philosophies.

We use a gender-responsive addiction treatment model, which is integrated with DBT skills modules, therapeutic process groups, Art Therapy, Mindfulness, Restorative Yoga, TRE, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing Therapy.

What would you say to a woman who is considering joining the Rise Programme, but is questioning whether recovery is possible for them?

Consider how much you have come through already. Pay attention to all of the strengths and qualities that have helped you along the way. Draw on this. Recognise your foundation. Bring yourself fully to this opportunity, now. This programme works! It works for women taking the risk to let go of their trusted but failing strategies for coping in the hope of finding more effective and powerful ones for the next phase in their lives. If you are already considering the question – then the answer is YES, recovery is possible for you!

Finally, what are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

I get to show up professionally and personally, standing powerfully in the opportunities and possibilities for others. I see women (clients and staff) empowered every day in ways that previously did not seem possible for them. I get to live the words I speak and see others do the same EVERY DAY.

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About The Cabin Group:

  • Rise is part of The Cabin Group, a globally recognised addiction treatment provider with a collection of inpatient and outpatient treatment centres around the world. 
  • Treatment at Rise is administered by a multidisciplinary team of highly experienced, licensed addiction specialists. The all-female staff include adolescent behavioural and mental health therapists, as well as onsite medical staff, fitness trainers and a nutritionist.