We would feel embarrassed if someone read our diary or journal, right? That depends on whom we share it with and if we are open to all the good things that come from sharing, especially with people who love and support us, like family, friends, and caregivers. Yes, a journal can be private, but sharing it with supporters can actually bring us closer to them, and lead to growth, insight, and bonding.

There is great power in having our story witnessed by a supportive person. Even though we feel vulnerable doing it, opening up and sharing what’s in our journal can lead to the warm feelings that come from increased emotional intimacy. We feel less alone. The person witnessing our story is better able to feel empathy for us and understand where we are emotionally than if we keep our feelings and journal to ourselves. We connect in a real and meaningful way with the person listening to us.

Going deeper does not have to be lonely or scary. By choosing to share our journal with a “safe” person, we practice and gain confidence for when we share with people we don’t know quite as well. Eventually, the more people we share with, the more connected we feel to others, and the more supported we feel. By feeling heard and understood, we get our feelings validated and give a boost to our self-esteem.

Parents and professional caregivers can help young people start journaling by writing together, and by offering to be a scribe as the patients tell their story. They can then listen as the patient reads the story back to them. This begins the power of witnessing a patient’s story.

Digging Deep is a gentle, approachable way to start journaling, and is a tool for being better understood and for communicating one’s needs so one can reach out for support. We suggest using it in a group setting, for survivorship, illness, or sibling groups, for example. People can work individually or in pairs on questions, with one person being a scribe. Then either the author can read his or her answer, or someone can anonymously read it.

Anyone—parents, caregivers, patients—can post journal entries and information on protected sites such as Caring Bridge or Care Pages, to share with whomever they choose and to build a private support network. Parent permission is required if under age 13.

So, we urge anyone supporting a young person with a health challenge to gently encourage that patient to tell his or her story, and experience the power of sharing.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.
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