Roots of the Work

Speaking our Peace

Many years ago, Dr. Sontag led a writing group for boys and girls in juvenile detention, fully knowing in her heart that the skill of writing would develop the thinking ability, self understanding and relationship skills of these youth. The goal was that they would develop enjoyment of writing and that with that, the boys might avoid further jail time and even use the practice of writing to understand themselves and reach some inner resolve about their places in the world.

The custom was to show black and white images from an overhead projector of youth in unique and perhaps challenging situations…sitting in a bleak basement window well, an old Depression era photo by Dorothea Lange of a mother and her children, a child having a tender moment with a younger child, for example…. and having the youth write an explanation, from that youth’s perspective, of what was going on for that youth.

Those youth liked the group, and they came back week after week for about eight months, and students looked forward to it. We published a collection of stories, ones the writers liked best and pursued multiple edits with peer review. 

They called the class, Speak Your Peace…using a play on words with the expression “speak one’s piece” meaning a piece of one’s mind, and changing the spelling of ‘piece’ to ‘peace’ to directly express the intent that writing would bring peace of mind, inner tranquility and or other positive peaceful consequences to the writers’ lives.

Full Life Programs used the same expression, this time referring to the speaking of our stories in the conversation groups in a senior apartment complex in the winter of 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. 

We use this term now to express our sureness that speaking our stories within the healthy communication boundaries that the groups will practice, brings a peace to us, because:

  • we are sharing our experience with open hearts, safely, with others,
  • those others are respecting our privacy and listening without interrupting or commenting,
  • sharing our experiences with others brings value to us and our lives,
  • telling our stories is a way of making them alive again,
  • and allows us to use the wisdom of our years to understand our stories in a fresh way.


James Pennebaker, a researcher from the University of Texas, has conducted extensive research on the value of writing our stories in healing trauma and coming to terms with the past. Speaking our stories has a very similar healing value, especially when we are listened to in the authentic manner we practice within the framework of Full Life Programs groups.

Full Life Programs continues this journey with groups and individual coaching, as we Speak Our Peace.



*James W. Pennebaker, Southern Methodist University

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