Virtual Connections with Phoenix SOAR Peer Support

Written by Tonya NielsonNate Nielson and Rebecca Garber, MSN, FNP_BC, FAANP on December 20, 2021

Burn Treatment
Family + Friends
Getting Quality Treatment
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Testimonials / Impact Stories

For twenty years, Phoenix SOAR has connected survivors and loved ones who have experienced similar trauma to find hope and healing when they need it most. When the pandemic brought most in-person peer support programs to a halt, Phoenix Society embraced the opportunities of a virtual peer support program.

“Phoenix SOAR has evolved to reach and serve more people than ever,” says Jessica Irven, Phoenix Society’s Peer Support Program Manager. “Feedback from Coordinators and course attendees has been amazingly affirming! Connection is what it’s all about, and these advances show our commitment to evolving in the name of service.”

Phoenix Society’s virtual training is a hybrid of self-paced learning and live coaching by National Instructors, including how to provide peer support through virtual platforms. As our hospital partners strove to continue offering peer support, virtual trainings and peer support visits filled an important gap.

“My vision is to continue to offer peer support through pandemic challenges and beyond,” says Rebecca Garber, Nurse Practitioner and Lead Phoenix SOAR Coordinator for Western States Burn Center. “I strive to be flexible to continue expansion of this important program. Peer-to-peer support is an invaluable resource to survivors and family survivors recovering from injury.”

When invited to become Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporters at Western States Burn Center, Nate and Tonya Nielson were honored to join the program. After Nate was injured in an oil and gas explosion two years ago, the Nielson family spent three months at the burn center and another month at in-patient rehab.

“I was able to meet with Peer Supporters while Nate was still under sedation,” says Tonya. “It gave me hope during the very critical times of Nate’s injury.”

Rebecca and the Nielsons were among the first participants in the new virtual Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporter training. Keep reading to learn about their experiences and what this new training model means for burn centers, peer supporters, and survivors who need support.

Nate and Tonya Nielson

Nate + Tonya Nielson: Helping Others Heal

What motivated you to become trained Peer Supporters?

The Nielsens: When Nate was in the burn center, we had survivors that helped us through our journey both individually and in group settings, so when the burn center asked if we would like to be volunteers, we were so honored to become part of a group that we knew had so much power, care, and impact in the recovery of other burn survivors.

Tonya: I am a firm believer that the support that we received from family and the peer support group at the burn center is why we were able to keep such positive attitudes, which in return was a big piece of Nate’s survival. It is important to me that the spouses and loved ones of burn survivors receive the same type of support that I did from someone who understands first-hand what the other side is like to help navigate through the journey.

Describe your experience participating in the virtual Phoenix SOAR training .

Tonya: The training gave me confidence in meeting with spouses and family members. Because of where our world is, all of my Peer Support meetings have been virtual, so the virtual training was very helpful with becoming comfortable with supporting through a computer. The initial Peer Support training of the reenactments and role play during training was very uncomfortable but working through the discomfort is exactly what gave me the confidence when I started meeting with peers.

Nate: Although the training was virtual, it was still hands-on and active. The training prepared me to be a Peer Supporter by teaching me the different stages and processes that each individual goes through. Identifying these stages helps me have appropriate conversations for where someone is at in their journey.

How have Phoenix Society resources made a difference in your family’s recovery?

The Nielsens: We have used Phoenix Society peer support within the burn center, a few online support groups, and Burn Support Magazine, where we always find something relatable to learn from. Our family has taken the peer support program by the horns. All of our family members—parents, siblings, nieces and nephews—have talked in a group or with a peer supporter at some point during Nate’s journey. It has given us the opportunity to take on this adventure as a family with all of us being supported and has also given Nate the opportunity to meet with other survivors that give him hope.

Phoenix Society has been the way for us to not feel alone during this journey. We are constantly meeting and learning from others and always know that we have Phoenix Society as a resource in our back pocket when we need it as individuals on our journey as well as when we need it as peer supporters.

Rebecca Garber: Expanding Peer Support through Pandemic Challenges

How did you get involved with the Phoenix SOAR program?

Our burn program sought Phoenix SOAR training for our burn volunteers because we aspired to formalize our program and foster the relationship and support of Phoenix Society. Since then, we have coordinated virtual Phoenix SOAR sessions to ensure that despite hospital pandemic visitation restrictions, peer support continues. We have continued Burn Support Groups virtually, often led by Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporters. I have also completed the training to be a National Phoenix SOAR Instructor using the virtual platform.

You were part of the first group to experience the Phoenix SOAR virtual training. What was that like?

The Phoenix Society team of Instructors are amazing, wonderfully supportive, and nurturing of what each individual has to offer other burn survivors. The course is truly customized. Each participant completes pre-course paperwork identifying their history, and the coordinators tailor topics to what each participant experiences during the training. They are concerned for the well-being of all survivors participating and check in to ensure that the Peer Supporters in training are emotionally safe while working through the scenarios presented to them.

Our regional burn program serves eight states, and the ability to train virtually has presented an opportunity to get more Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporters through the training by connecting groups of people across the country and eliminating a need to fill a class locally. In addition, virtual Peer Support helps us reach more survivors in their hometowns, providing support both near and far.

Any tips for other Phoenix SOAR coordinators to make the most of the Phoenix SOAR program at their hospitals?

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught me, as a coordinator you have to be flexible to the changing times, to adapt to whatever the circumstances are to continue peer support. It is beneficial to have a broad pool of Peer Supporters available to meet the needs of new survivors. It’s important to follow up on action items identified in peer support sessions. Checking in with current Peer Supporters periodically ensures that all are managing the encounters without emotional strain.

How have Phoenix Society resources made a difference for your patients and their loved ones?

We always refer our current inpatients, families, and new clinic patients to the Phoenix Society webpage and resources. There are so many articles to learn from, chat rooms to be involved in, and programs to support survivors. Phoenix Society is amazing at instilling hope, helping survivors realize they are not alone, and providing a community of Peer Supporters when the patient is in a situation that can feel very out of control and isolating.

If you’re interested in becoming a trained Peer Supporter or bringing the Phoenix SOAR program to your hospital, learn more here.