After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
— Philip Pullman

Every year in the United States, approximately 500,000 people walk out of prison to start a new life.

In 2015, 20.5 million Americans 12 or older were struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

According to the Census Bureau, approximately 21.8 million Americans are veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

In 2015, Reuters reported that more than 500,000 people - a quarter of them children – were homeless in the United States.

According to the Chicago Literacy Alliance, an estimated "882,000 – or 30% of adults in Chicago – have low basic literacy skills and would benefit from adult literacy and/or adult basic education services." 

The numbers of people who are – or will be – rebuilding their lives speak for themselves. 

And while we wholeheartedly believe in the healing power of art, we're also realists. We understand that, for many people, just finding a safe place to rest can be a struggle. With staggeringly high rates of addiction and incarceration, homelessness, abuse and neglect, we know that creating art might not be a priority.

We also know that, in addition to finding a job, food, and shelter, the path to rebuilding a fulfilling life includes understanding and telling our history so that we can identify destructive patterns to avoid in the future.

To begin, here's how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines holistic health: 

...viewing man in his totality within a wide ecological spectrum, and…emphasizing the view that ill health or disease is brought about by an imbalance, or disequilibrium, of man in his total ecological system and not only by the causative agent and pathogenic evolution.

There is a good deal of research supporting the connection between writing and both physical and emotional healing.

In a study conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health titled The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health, researchers found that 'expressive writing' such as journaling about one's 'deepest thoughts and feelings' results in improvements in 'immune function, stress hormones, blood pressure, and a number of social , academic, and cognitive variables. These effects have been shown to hold across cultures, age groups, and diverse samples.'

According to findings by the leading researcher on the power of writing and journaling for healing purposes, James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, "...expressive writing occurs on multiple levels–cognitive, emotional, social, and biological–making a single explanatory theory unlikely. However, there is little doubt that writing has positive consequences, and self-report studies suggest that writing about upsetting experiences produces long-term improvements in mood and health."

In another study on the healing power of creative writing conducted by Temple University’s Therapeutic Recreation Program, the authors found that:

Despite limited research in this area, creative writing activities appear to be a viable treatment intervention that can not only lead to decreased drinking intentions (Young et al., 2013), but can also lead to improvements in depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, and physical health in individuals with substance abuse issues (Meshberg-Cohen et al., 2014). Furthermore, treatment sessions involving creative writing have been linked to improvements in self-confidence/self-esteem, social skills (Alschuler, 2000), social/emotional self-expression/self-disclosure (Alschuler, 2000; Olson-McBride & Page, 2012), coping, self-awareness (Alschuler, 2000; Tyson & Bafour, 2004) and trust (Alschuler, 2000) in this population. If clients have not previously had experience with creative writing, leisure skill development may also occur (Alschuler, 2000).

In an American Addiction Centers article titled "Creative Writing May Help in the Recovery Process," the author writes:

Writing for Addiction Today, recovery specialist Fiona Friend recounted a creative writing session she led at an addiction treatment center. She instructed her students, all adults in recovery for substance abuse, through nonfiction, fiction and poetry exercises that were designed to allow them to put the thoughts they could not say onto the page.
When the class finished, Friend had her students fill out a questionnaire on the class. When asked if they thought creative writing was therapeutic, 100 percent said yes. When asked why, responses varied – some said they had not thought that directly about themselves for years, while others were able to find new perspectives by writing on events in their pasts.
Though almost 70 percent admitted that they did not initially believe that a creative writing class would help them in their efforts to stay sober, 90 percent believed the class would have a direct impact on their recovery efforts when asked the same question after their last session.
Creative writing is not a cure-all for addiction therapy, but it may be another tool that people in recovery can use to increase their chances of success. While the physical issues of addiction are best left to professionals, individuals themselves must face the emotional hurdles of substance abuse.

But not all writing has to be about our 'deepest thoughts and feelings.' We also recognize the power of imagined storytelling, telling a story wholly outside of the writer's experience. We meet students where they feel most comfortable and realize that not every writer will be at the same emotional or educational level. We also demand a supportive atmosphere and, instead of unhelpful critique, our approach focuses on what's working in each student's writing.