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Posted Monday November, 30th 2020

'Lit therapy' in the classroom: Writing about trauma can be valuable, if done right

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Some of my students have been assaulted. Others have been homeless, jobless or broke, some suffer from depression, anxiety or grief. Some fight addiction, cancer or for custody. Many are in pain and they want to write about it.

Opening wounds in the classroom is messy and risky. Boundaries and intentions can feel blurred in a class where memories and feelings also present teachable moments. But if teachers and students work together, opportunities to share difficult personal stories can be constructive.

Writing about trauma

The health benefits of writing about trauma are well documented. Some counseling theories—such as narrative therapy—incorporate writing into their therapeutic techniques.

Research suggests writing about trauma can be beneficial because it helps people re-evaluate their experiences by looking at them from different perspectives.

Studies suggest writing about traumatic events can help ease the emotional pressure of negative experiences. But writing about trauma is not a cure-all and it may be less effective if people are also struggling with ongoing mental health challenges, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Internationally acclaimed researcher and clinician Bessel van der Kolk asserts in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, that trauma is more than a stored memory to be expunged. Rather, van der Kolk suggests our whole mind, brain and sense of self can change in response to trauma.

Pain is complicated. And teachers in a classroom are not counselors in a clinic.

If properly managed, though, sharing stories about personal suffering can be a relevant and valuable educational experience. It's a strategy that, in a professional setting, could be referred to as "lit therapy."

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