It is pretty well accepted that journaling can be cathartic, but there is more to journaling than letting go of what’s bothering us.  Expressing our innermost feelings in writing helps us process and understand those feelings.  Putting our emotions into words allows us to step back from an experience, gain perspective, and find meaning in it.  Writing expressively helps us both release our feelings and then understand and accept what is bothering us, so we can move on.

Why is journaling important, especially for kids and teens facing serious illness?  Sometimes we are so upset or stressed out by what we are going through, physically, we don’t even know how to express our feelings until we write them down.  Journaling brings amazing clarity, first to ourselves, then teaches us to express our feelings and needs to those we trust: our families, friends, child life specialist, medical team, and everyone who is there to support us.  Journaling creates opportunities for people to connect on a more honest and emotional level.  From infancy to old age, sharing our vulnerabilities allows us to engage emotionally with one another, which we desperately need when we are sick. Journaling is such a simple and easy tool to learn to share our stories and connect—everyone should do it, but especially kids with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

As important as it is to let go of our feelings, the words we choose to describe them are equally important, even powerful. We can make ourselves feel better by choosing positive words, for instance. Typically, kids who are very sick may start out sounding quite negative in their journals.  (“Why me?”) But as they write more often, they learn to ‘dig deep’ for answers, to communicate their needs to others, and end on a dramatically more positive note. (“I’m a much tougher person than I thought I was…I am not my disease—I am me and I am awesome!”) In fact, even reading their own positive vocabulary makes kids feel better about themselves—this empowers them and makes them more resilient for whatever lies ahead.

Enjoy this clip, which demonstrates the transforming power of words.

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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