After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story

A Journaling Workbook

Barbara Stahura and Susan Schuster, M.A., CCC-SLP

This workbook has been developed specifically for survivors of brain injury and blast injury. Based on journaling workshops led by the authors for survivors of traumatic brain injury, it is filled with journaling exercises.  They guide the user through examining and expressing the many ways that the brain injury has affected and altered their lives. Vignettes by individuals give it a personal touch and also serve as examples of journaling.

Breaking it down into sections, users explore…

  • changing sense of self
  • loss, memory and resilience
  • altered relationships with family and friends
  • anger and emotions
  • grief and loss
  • facing the future
  • building hope
  • moving forward

Journaling is a proven therapeutic tool used to explore one’s inner self by expressing emotions, confronting fears, relieving anxiety, coping with stress, celebrating successes, and preparing for new challenges. By writing for only a few minutes at a time, journalers can heal and cope with crises due to illness, death, or any life-altering event.

After her husband, Ken Willingham, sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2003, she created a journaling workshop for people with brain injury and began co-facilitating it with Susan B. Schuster. Those workshops were the basis for After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story.

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, A Journaling Workbook

By Barbara Stahura and Susan B. Schuster, M.A., CCC-SLP

This workbook guides survivors of brain injury and blast injury through the powerful healing experience of telling their own stories with simple journaling techniques. By writing short journal entries, survivors explore the challenges, losses, changes, emotions, adjustments, stresses, and milestones as they rebuild their lives.


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3 responses to “After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story”

  1. See, Geok Lan says:

    I am a psychologist working in a new specialized hospital, Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital. It is a hospital in Malaysia. Everyday, i have to see my patients for assessments and so on. I felt pity to them as they are so much in unknown about their condition and what to do next. They are so helpless with limited resources to access on how to overcome their condition. I am hoping that this e-book can be printed out here and to be given away for them. At least, it can be use as their first reference again and again to aid their own journey towards betterment besides therapy they are getting in hospital.

  2. How to Journal
    by Barbara Stahura
    Certified Instructor, Journal to the Self®

    Whether you are a person with a brain injury or a family member, I highly recommend a few minutes of journaling as often as you can. To journal simply means to write down your thoughts and feelings in a place you designate for that. Research has shown that journaling for only 15 minutes for three or four days in a row can have significant physical and emotional health benefits.

    Your journal can be a fancy leather-bound book, a plain spiral notebook or three-ring binder, or it can be on your computer. Choose whatever works best for you. You can write as often as you like. Some people enjoy journaling daily, while others do it only a few times a week or a month. You can write for five minutes, or for an hour–you choose, depending on your energy, time, and desire to write. It is your journal, so you can do whatever you like within its pages. Some people even draw, paint, or create collages in their journals, along with writing.

    To get the most benefit from journaling, do your best to be as honest as you can, don’t censor, and don’t edit. (Keep your journal private if you don’t want others to see it.) Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation—remember, journaling is not graded! If you like and if you are able, keep your pen moving on the page or your fingers on the keyboard. If you get stuck, repeat your last few words until new words begin to flow again. This is called “freewriting,” and continuing to write, even when you think you have nothing more to say, can bring up valuable new insights from your subconscious.

    If you cannot physically write or type, you can use a recording device and speak your journal entries. If you have a trusted family member, friend, or counselor who is willing and who will remain nonjudgmental, this person can write your words as you speak them. (John Fox, a certified poetry therapist, often writes the words of his clients not able to write, and they receive much benefit from this. He explains that this technique is valuable for journaling as well.) John’s site is

    You can begin a journal entry by writing about whatever is on your mind at the moment. You can also begin with a “prompt,” or a phrase to get you started. Some examples of prompts are, “What I don’t understand about myself since my brain injury…” or “I promise myself I will…” or “I treat myself with patience and kindness by…”

    Keeping a journal is a positive, healing thing you can do for yourself during difficult times. It’s also a way to celebrate life’s successes and joys. Giving yourself permission to keep a journal is the first step.

  3. Journaling Through Traumatic Times
    by Barbara Stahura
    Certified Instructor, Journal to the Self®

    Every day as I went see to Ken in the hospital and later in the rehab center, I carried a satchel with things I might need during the many hours away from home: some healthy snacks, a bottle of water or my travel mug full of tea, a book or magazine—and my journal. This fat, spiral-bound notebook became my lifeline after a hit-and-run driver left my husband with a TBI, originally diagnosed as moderate to severe.

    It turns out that my impulse to write page after page was a healthy one, although at the time I knew only that I needed a safe place to unload my chaotic feelings and record even the smallest successes. Rather than yell at doctors who ignored my pleas for information, I scribbled fast and BIG. In order to remember comforting dreams, I turned on the bedside light and wrote while tears streamed down my face. When after several weeks Ken’s memory finally allowed him to remember an event overnight, my joy danced directly from my heart to the page.

    I didn’t know it then, but journaling has been shown to have therapeutic value during traumatic times, and even long afterward. Journaling for even 15 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days about a past or current traumatic event can provide significant benefits for physical and mental health. (See more at the Web site of leading journaling researcher James Pennebaker, Ph.D. –

    My journaling later also provided an additional benefit for us: When Ken finally was able to read and comprehend my journal, it filled in the long gap in his memory. Learning what had happened to him, and to me, after the “brain wreck” gave a boost to his ongoing recovery.

    Several years after Ken’s accident, I was able to create a journaling workshop for people with brain injury. Since then, I have facilitated it with Susan B. Schuster, a dynamic, committed speech language therapist who had worked with Ken in his outpatient rehab. Whatever the changes—major or minor—their injuries caused, participants find it healing to write their stories, even if all they can manage is a few sentences at a time. They write about the origin of their injury, losses and adjustments, anger and grief, changes in relationships and work or school, as well as resilience, strength, and positive happenings post-injury. We always allow time for people to read their journal entries aloud (on a voluntary basis), and we are always moved by their brave, heartfelt words. Even better, the participants offer support and cheers to one another, since they understand as no one else can.

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