In 2018-19, I was in residence at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health in Kennesaw, Georgia, providing a storytelling program to youth who live there. Each cycle of the program lasted 6-7 weeks. The first and second cycles in Spring and Fall 2018 were dedicated to teenage girls who have been commercially sexually exploited, also known as sex or human trafficking. In Winter and Spring 2019, I worked with other special populations at the facility who have extreme trauma, anxiety, and behavioral disorders.
Each program cycle involved working with a group of 10-12 youth to help them select a story from their lives they wanted to tell. It did not have to be their hardest stories, the reasons they were there. The program was simply about learning the art of personal storytelling. With that said, often they did choose to lean into their hardest stories for the therapeutic value. Then, we went into a few weeks of individual coaching where I worked with a few participants at a time on their story to outline and mark their moments. Finally, we had a group “dress rehearsal” utilizing critical response process so everyone could provide feedback to each other.
The final product for each cycle was a storytelling show for invited staff at the facility. Because of the extremely private, intense, and sensitive nature of this work, I’m afraid I can’t share video of these stories or even pictures of participants’ faces. What I can do is share some of the best lines from their stories:
- “They say you’re supposed to play the hand you’re dealt, but my deck had one king, one queen, one ace, and 52 jokers.”
- “I’m going to become a midwife, but I’m already giving birth to myself.”
- “I was on my road, but my mom wanted me to be on her road. It was a bad road.”
- “I love to read–all genres. I especially love mysteries. The first time I got to read my file, it was like reading through a mystery. Every page, I learned something new about myself I didn’t know.”
- “When I became a woman, I got to choose my own name. I decided I would choose Love as my last name because I wanted to give people the thing I never got.”
- “I skipped all of 9th grade so I could play video games. That’s how I wound up here.”
- “I lived in 17 States before high school. No wonder I wound up with a personality disorder. I couldn’t figure out who or where I was.”
This project was a partnership between Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, the Devereux Foundation, and StoryMuse. Lead Devereux therapist Amy Waldron oversaw the program on the ground, recruiting other practitioners to share some of their group therapy and after-school “club” time with our program.
To further understand, I encourage you to read this blog post I wrote about the connection between food security and the work.
What They’re Saying
When I attended StoryMuse’s production, Trigger Warning in 2017, I knew immediately that it contained a template for using stories in healing trauma and grief that I wanted to bring to Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. I approached Shannon about creating a 6-week pilot project for girls who have been commercially sexually exploited. We secured grant funding and were able to leverage the pilot project into a full year of four cycles of programming. Each cycle moved the youth through a curriculum that included basics of storytelling, examining the journeys of their lives, and then cultivating one story for performance for staff at our facility. Along with the CSEC youth, Shannon worked with a variety of populations, including teenage boys and girls who have trauma, anxiety, and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues.
Shannon embodied skills of empathy, vulnerability, humor, self-reflection, and resilience with the youth, as well as with our staff. I watched as their confidence and self-esteem rose through the process of mastering some of their hardest stories. Some youth even chose to do the program a second time when given the chance. On an administrative level, Shannon was extremely professional and able to move fluidly between populations, including between staff and youth. She always encouraged and participated in opportunities for evaluation, documentation, and planning.
I recommend her work to you.