Barbara Stahura and Journaling
MEET THE AUTHOR…
Certified Journal Facilitator, discovered the power of personal journaling years ago and now shares her knowledge in workshops that provide pathways to personal growth and self-empowerment. Her book, After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, grew from her long-running journaling group in Tucson, AZ. She has also facilitated journaling events for the National Guard, family caregivers, writers, equine-facilitated experiential learning groups, and others. She is an award-winning author and certified instructor of Journal to the Self®. She now lives in Indiana with her husband, a survivor of a traumatic brain injury. You can learn more about Barbara at her website: http://www.barbarastahura.com. In the meantime, here is her interview.
LASH: As a journal keeper, how did you make the transition from personal journaling to developing a journaling guide for people with brain injury?
STAHURA: Since I’d been journaling for years and knew plenty of journaling techniques to call upon, it didn’t seem much of a leap. But probably the biggest link between journaling for myself and writing a journaling guide was my freelance writing career, which began in 1994. I had many magazine articles and more than a dozen other books under my belt, so I felt confident that I could write After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, along with my co-author, Susan B. Schuster, MA, CCC-SLP. However, I didn’t start out to write a book. I began by designing a journaling workshop in 2007, about four years after my husband, Ken, sustained a TBI.
Then one day I had one of those “V-8”moments—you know, I practically whacked my forehead and said, “This workshop could be a book!” Having done the workshop first was very helpful. It gave me a basic structure to work from.
LASH: What was your biggest hurdle (s) as you were creating your workshops?
STAHURA: The biggest hurdle was getting past the feeling that maybe I wasn’t qualified to do this. I’m not a therapist. What did I know about working with people with brain injury? However, I knew in my heart that people with brain injury could be helped in some way by journaling. Several hundred studies have shown the benefits of journaling for many populations, and they revolve around being able to express yourself and tell your story. As Ken and I had discovered, a brain injury changes the story of a family, and we had to change along with it. So I moved ahead in the belief that I could create and lead these workshops. Susan Schuster, who had been a fantastic speech therapist for Ken, believed in the workshops, and she became a co-facilitator. We held the workshops for four years at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Southern Arizona, in Tucson, and I’m very grateful for their support and enthusiasm.
LASH: If I attended one of your workshops what would I find?
STAHURA: More than anything, you would find a small group of people with brain injury who are eager to explore themselves and their lives and who are searching for ways to cope with the many changes they have undergone. Traditional therapy for brain injury typically doesn’t include much, if any, journaling, which is really all about telling your story. Telling our story is a crucial part of being human, particularly after a trauma such as brain injury. It’s very healing, to body, mind, and spirit, so journaling can be a positive addition to regular therapies.
As for the workshop itself, it’s set up for six weekly, 90-minute sessions, although it can be modified or customized in whatever way works for the group. We begin each session with a short check-in so people can report on what’s been happening since our last meeting. And then we typically do two or three short journaling exercises from the book.
LASH: What is a Certified Journal Facilitator?
STAHURA: A Certified Journal Facilitator has gone through a guided study program that demonstrates how to responsibly and ethically facilitate journal groups. This program through the Therapeutic Writing Institute is the first of its kind and was developed by Kathleen Adams, LPC, who is founder of the Center for Journal Therapy and TWI, and wrote Journal to the Self.
By early 2009, I had been so moved and inspired by the people in my groups that I wanted to learn more about facilitating journal groups. I wanted to have a solid background in the work and become more effective. So first I became a certified instructor of Journal to the Self®, and then went on to become a Certified Journal Therapist.
LASH: You have a triple perspective… from personal journaling, to journaling after your husband’s brain injury, to leading journaling workshops. Would you please comment on the differences, and how this perspective has influenced your new role?
STAHURA: By the time Ken sustained the TBI in December 2003, I’d been journaling on and off for years. Back in the early 90s, it helped me leave a soul-killing corporate job to become a freelance writer. Then, from the second day that Ken was in the hospital to forty days later when he came home from rehab, I journaled pages every day. My journal was with me all the time. It was the one place where I could feel some safety or feel at all grounded. It was my sanctuary. This was a terrifying and deeply confusing time, and I needed a way to figure things out and to have a record for the future. I still journal frequently, and it’s always helpful, even during pleasant times.
Facilitating a journaling group is definitely different. As the facilitator, I don’t write. It’s my job to see that everyone feels comfortable and included, and understands what we’re doing. A journaling group is supposed to be a safe place, so I work to keep it that way. People are less likely to express their deep thoughts and feelings, even on a private journal page, if they don’t feel safe and welcomed.
Participating in the journaling process from both sides has given me a richer appreciation of what journaling can do for people, of how much it can help someone cope with life, especially when that life is difficult. So often, we are unable to find someone who will really listen to us with respect and nonjudgment. But when we journal, we give ourselves the great gift of listening to ourselves and discovering more of who we are. I love doing that for myself, and I’m both honored and humbled that people with brain injury have allowed me to help them do the same for themselves.