Written by Nicolle Nattrass

How to Facilitate Trauma-Informed Journaling

Overview of the purpose of this article …

Journaling is a tool for life, an incredibly powerful and valuable therapeutic tool. One of the many gifts of learning how to facilitate trauma-informed journaling is the satisfaction of being able to guide and help others to write to heal. Support others to journal for self-care in ways that help individuals to honour their feelings, build resilience and recover from trauma.

This article is especially for those who are facilitating journaling workshops, retreats or writing to heal sessions.  In this article, you will learn how to be trauma-informed when facilitating journaling and writing to heal processes. This article can also be helpful for individuals who want to approach their own journaling in a trauma-informed way.

Using a trauma-informed approach as a facilitator when leading a  journaling session whether in person or online is of vital importance to me, especially with people who are writing to heal trauma or when difficult or emotional subject areas come up during journaling.

We all experience stress and trauma in our lives to some degree but the effects of how trauma impacts every individual vary greatly from individual to individual. Trauma can be interpersonal, external, developmental and historical.

Trauma is complex and can be experienced by individuals, families, children, communities, cultures, service providers, institutions and organizations. 

Trauma-Informed Definition

Being informed about trauma means knowing how to help others be able to safely and fully participate in what is being offered and facilitated. Trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practice means just that – being aware of trauma, what it is, how it presents, and how to create emotionally safe environments where people who have experienced trauma can be understood and supported.

6 Guiding Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness & Transparency
  • Peer Support
  • Collaboration & Mutuality
  • Empowerment, Voice & Choice
  • Cultural, Historical & Gender Issues

Applying the principles as a facilitator

Practicing these principles, as facilitators includes learning to use trauma-informed language and continuing to upgrade knowledge through professional development and trauma-informed education.


Striving to cultivate a creative, warm, welcoming environment that is not only physically safe but emotionally safe as well can require taking more time as a facilitator to predict and/or find out what needs might be important to individual participants in the room. How much physical, personal space might help participants need? What is the environment where the journaling takes place like? How can it be a calming or comforting space? What are the access needs of group participants?

Access need is (working definition) “Access needs are what people need for learning or participation to occur.” Everyone is on the spectrum of having access needs” Access Needs means something a person needs to communicate, learn, and take part in an activity, such as a meeting or an event.

As a facilitator, ask yourself if your agenda is sensitive to the needs and barriers of your participants. Respect the agenda you created but hold it lightly.

Trustworthiness and Transparency:

Earning and building trust, not expecting trust is the work of the trauma-informed facilitator.
Through a facilitator’s sensitivity, preparation, words and behavior, trust is built consistently while also being mindful of the speed and rhythm of the needs of the group. Offering transparency, explaining or “front loading” what is coming next also reinforces safety within the group and minimizes stress or anxiety among participants. Transparency is not to be confused with sharing every detail but can be an opportunity to “humanize” the experience.

For example, sharing from the heart in an authentic, appropriate way that it is normal to experience upset or nerves, when trying a new journal technique for the very first time.

Peer Support:

The term “peers” can refer to individuals with lived experience of trauma or of shared experience. Encouraging peer support in the group through the expression of compassion and connection of their experiences. A trauma-informed facilitator maintains healthy boundaries, models respect and redirects when needed.

For example, a trauma-informed facilitator sets tone & guidelines that protect peer interruptions, prevent criticism and promote support and healing.

Collaboration and Mutuality:

Encouraging group input and collaboration by spending time to explore and define mutually shared values can increase safety within a group. Creating lessons, journaling prompts and exercises through group input and collaboration is an important factor to consider as a trauma-informed facilitator. Group input promotes mutuality, a partnering together, a sharing of power and decision making. For example, asking participants for feedback on journaling exercises, being open to shifting an agenda to align with a group’s immediate needs or interests and making sure that creative ideas and input are welcome.

Empowerment, Voice and Choice:

A trauma-informed approach requires consistent care, attention and assessment of the journey of each participant. Being able to assess, recognize and build upon individual strengths. Adapting to and finding ways to empower participants can include shifting exploration, providing a variety of choices and options for participants might be necessary to accommodate preferences, barriers and challenges. Empowering participants to voice their preferences, concerns, feelings and to be active in their choices and decision making.

Cultural, historical and gender issues:

Holding space, sensitivity and active awareness of biases or stereotypes in all of these areas, cultural, historical and gender issues is of vital importance for individual & group wellness and safety. Recognizing historical trauma on the whole but also how the act of writing, for residential school survivors or participants who may experience shame or have been shamed around literacy. A trauma-informed facilitator welcomes cultural needs of participants, ensures safety and access needs for all gender identities and if necessary, provides policies, protocols and education to keep the group informed and safe. For example, beginning a group workshop with a historical, land acknowledgement followed by introducing oneself and pronouns, Hi, my name is Nicolle and my pronouns are she/her.

“It’s important to note that adopting a trauma-informed approach is not accomplished through any single particular technique or checklist. It requires constant attention, caring awareness, sensitivity, and possibly a cultural change at a personal, professional and organizational level” Source from CDC Information

Click graphic on the right to expand it.

Graphic thanks to: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm

Trauma-Informed Leadership

Awareness for the need for trauma-informed leadership is much more prevalent now.  This is particularly true in occupational sectors such as education and healthcare where there is more emphasis and resources towards trauma-informed care and education to be better able to address the mental and physical health of employees in the work environment. Teachers are receiving training on how to use trauma-informed language with students in the classroom as well as trauma-informed teaching strategies. Healthcare providers are understanding that providing emotional and mental trauma -informed grounding techniques with patients has a lasting impact on their recovery.

Examples of a Trauma-Informed Approach 

“A trauma-informed classroom teacher recognizes that the student with his head on his desk most mornings has been up all night because he often hears gunfire in his neighborhood. She adjusts her approach to engaging this student in class, and he is better able to learn.  

A trauma-informed pediatric nurse on a busy inpatient unit notices that a young patient in her care is extremely quiet and withdrawn in the hours leading up to a planned surgical procedure.  She takes a few moments to talk with the patient and his family to understand and address their specific worries and concerns.” 

Source for these examples: https://www.healthcaretoolbox.org/what-does-it-mean-to-be-trauma-informed-and-why-does-it-matter-for-pediatric-care

In both of the examples given, a trauma-informed approach is being implemented, where the teacher and nurse recognize, understand and empathize with the possible impact of trauma on those in their care.

4 R’s or key assumptions in a trauma-informed approach

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Concept of Trauma and Guidance in a trauma-informed approach, there are 4 R’s or key assumptions to be aware of including the following:

  1. Realization about trauma and understanding of its impact
  2. Recognize the signs of trauma 
  3. Respond by applying a trauma-informed approach
  4. Resist re-traumatization 


Trauma-Informed Design

Trauma-informed design is about approaching planning, content and delivery of journaling workshops and course material with the key concepts around trauma which have been researched and proven to be safe and effective including these like the 6 Guiding Principles noted above. 

As a trauma-informed facilitator it is your aim to cultivate a safe, welcoming creative space that inspires learning, encourages connections, allows for mistakes, connection and belonging. This means keeping current with your own trauma-informed education and knowledge on diversity and inclusion.

A trauma-informed facilitator will approach a course or workshop with professional knowledge, awareness and empathy and have the skills to be trauma sensitive and respond appropriately. 

How to Facilitate a Trauma-Informed Journaling Workshop

  • When working with groups, whether online or in person, let the group know if sensitive subject matters will be explored. Practical information is shared upfront to allow for individual participants to get an idea for what’s coming and allow them to prepare if need be.
  • Encourage participants to practice their own self-care by giving them choices, for example, this can include options while they are journaling like permission to stop, take a break and shift to a topic that works for them.
  • Offer choices for participants while at the same time asking that participants check in with a thumbs up to let you know that they are ok, or a signal to let you know if they have to stop because they feel emotional or triggered.
  • Set clear yet flexible boundaries around sharing including things like ensuring there is no pressure to share their journal writing but instead use trauma-informed language and allow for choice when it comes to sharing including offering participants the option to “pass” or decline.
  • Create an environment where questions and reflections are welcome.
  • Offer brief background and meaningful context as to why journaling and therapeutic writing exercises can be helpful and impactful.
  • Recognize if members of a group are in crisis or are journaling about a recent trauma, respond and provide meaningful resources, offer support or trauma-informed coaching where appropriate. Research by Dr. James Pennebaker & John Evans shows that it can be re-traumatizing if people write about trauma that is too recent (see reference list).
  • Avoid re-traumatizing through language that is shaming or blaming an individual or group that has experienced trauma.
  • Promote resiliency and prevent further harm.

For me, facilitating with a trauma informed approach is a special privilege because dealing with emotionally sensitive topics requires that tenderness, skill and care be present.

My work in the world is focused on helping others to explore, reclaim and recover their self-care. Healing does not occur through avoiding trauma, barriers or negative thoughts but by using trauma-informed practices, principles and tools, including journaling, to help others heal. 

Staying heart-centered is key to facilitation for trauma-informed journaling

My book, Just the Two of Us, A Soft Place for Tender Hearts to Land is a trauma-informed guide for those working with children on how to use journaling to process stress, anxiety and trauma. This book is a great resource that offers insight into trauma informed parenting, with an emphasis on putting the quality and the connection of a relationship first. 

This applies to facilitating trauma-informed journaling as well, no matter the age of the participant we are working with, when we put the relationship first, an atmosphere of safety, trust and respect can emerge. 

Care is the essential key that creates an environment that encourages connection, participation and care. Finding a balance when facilitating a journaling experience for an individual or group is to offer choices and to lead with a warm, invitational approach and a reflective compassionate manner.

Trauma-Informed Writing Prompts

Taking time to pause to use your journal to write about an upsetting event, feeling, situation and trauma whether past or present can help to organize thoughts, give meaning, process and express difficult feelings and stories.

There are many different techniques that you can use in your journal to explore trauma. For example, at times it can be helpful to write all the details down from a memory of an upsetting event , and be very specific about everything that you remember.

In other instances, a more reflective or general question or prompt can be an access point, like, what did you walk away from that experience with? What feelings or thoughts are you left with now? What is it that you would like to have happened differently? Exploring questions like, What was not present for you at the time of the event or experience? Using your journal to write a letter to yourself and offer the support and words you needed to hear at the time of the traumatic event or circumstance can help to validate your experience.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to be mindful of your emotions, practice good self-care and to be aware that if you become overwhelmed, slow down and take a break. 

It can be helpful to start a self-care journal to keep track of nurturing your positive growth and to stay present and compassionate with yourself. I also recommend that if you are engaged in writing to heal trauma that you also add writing a positive affirmation about yourself as an anchor point and way to feel reassured. 

Remember it is important to not push yourself but instead to reach out to a trusted friend, family member or counselor for support. It is normal to need help when a trauma has been activated, whether present or past and receiving professional treatment can be very beneficial. Seeking therapy and continuing to journal in between therapy sessions has been proven to help integrate healing more deeply and in some cases, accelerate the healing process.

If you notice that you are being flooded with feelings or physical body sensations, it is important to stop and to reach out to a support network to help.

Journaling is a tool for life, an incredibly powerful and valuable therapeutic tool. One of the many gifts of learning how to facilitate trauma-informed journaling is the satisfaction of being able to support, guide and help others to write to heal and journal for self- care to honour feelings, build resilience and recover from trauma.

I hope this article has been helpful for you and that you can apply this to your own journaling practice and your self-care journal. Just-the-two-of-us-workbook

If you are looking for guidance to explore a self-care journal, you can find my online course, Creative Journaling for Self-Care here.

The course was created using my knowledge to offer a trauma-informed design with guidance that allows freedom and many choices for you to  heal, explore joy and creativity. This course includes a coaching call with myself, teaching videos as well as printable worksheets.

For more about my trauma-informed parenting book, Just the Two of us go here.

Creative Journaling for Self-Care
By Nicolle Nattrass

Creative journaling is an investment in your self-care practice and is perfect for people who want to tune in, find clarity, and have more enjoyment and beauty in their lives. This four lesson, structured and self-guided program created by Nicolle Nattrass, will help you claim the joy you crave and increase your self-care using writing exercises, creativity challenges and fun activities.

Self-care is the fuel that nourishes us and moves us forward in our personal and professional lives. This is a self-study course. You have immediate access to the course at the time of purchase.


SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma informed approach
Health Care Toolbox, Guest Blog by Nancy Kassam-Adams, PhD
Just the Two of Us – A Parent Child Journal

Pennebaker, J. W. & Evans, J. (2014). Expressive Writing. Words that Heal – Using expressive writing to overcome traumas and emotional upheavals, resolve issues, improve health, and build resilience. Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor.


Nicolle Nattrass’s professional expertise is a result of her distinct and unique careers in Counselling, Theatre, Writing and Teaching. She is a Certified Addiction Counsellor CAC II and BFA graduate from University of Victoria in Theatre. Nicolle is proud to be part of the IAJW Journal Council with the International Association for Journaling Writing. She is also a Jessie Award nominated actress (CAEA), playwright (PGC), and contributing author of the forthcoming new book, Transformational Journaling for Coaches & Clients: The Complete Guide to the Benefits of Personal Writing (Routledge, 2021) by Lynda Monk & Eric Maisel (Eds.).  Nicolle is the author of four Creative Journaling courses. She has recently published her first book, Just the Two of Us (a soft place for tender hearts to land), a tender-hearted guide on how to use Creative Journaling as a key recovery tool to help children (age 4 and up) to connect and process stress, anxiety and trauma.

A dedicated counsellor and consultant in personal and professional creative self-care, she believes in carrying a message to empower others through her work, whether it is as an actor, writer or as Addiction counselor. Nicolle is a champion for self-care and artistic expression with the focus on ENJOYMENT! She creates courses & workbooks that are easy to use, powerful and inspiring. Nicolle values individual connection and offers a 30 minute coaching (one-on-one) session with her journaling clients. In her courses, Nicolle strives to offer a balance of guidance and freedom for her journaling clients, “no rules but opportunities to tune in for self- care to transform and move forward to the next step in your journey.”

Nicolle is the author of our IAJW course, Creative Journaling for Self-Care check it out!  She is also the author of our IAJW product,  Just the Two of Us