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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rough All Over: Processing Trauma and Gaining Empathy through Journaling


My students live in a high crime community and many have experienced frequent and re-occurring trauma. Drive-bys, violence at home, gang warfare, drug and alcohol experimentation, jail time, deaths in the family, etc., are experiences that my students face throughout their lifetimes; their lives are “rough all over.” When my students walk through the threshold of my classroom, they not only carry the weight of these experiences with them, but they also reproduce negative and destructive interactions with one another because they haven’t often experienced a world of safety and empathy. Drawing from Social Emotional Learning, CPTSD research, and Dutro’s Writing Wounded, I proposed that if students could write to one another in an anonymous journal for an extended period of time, they would be able to feel relief from expressing their traumas--starting the processing cycle--and that they could also learn to support one another empathetically. This would enable students to participate in and create a safer learning environment. Additionally, I hoped it would grow students socially and emotionally through trusting and supporting one another. I was astounded to find dozens upon dozens of empathetic, caring, and open journal entries. Students also self-reported positive feelings both toward journaling and toward the empathy they were practicing. This eight-week practice in social and emotional growth reflected the severe and immediate need that students have of SEL in the classroom, and the importance of visibility of complex trauma in children in urban school settings.

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