The University of the Fraser Valley is hosting “Writing as a Way of Healing,” a free workshop to help farmers and people affected by the devastating floods that occurred in November.
Michelle Superle, an assistant English professor and research associate with the UFV Food and Agriculture Institute, is leading the workshop along with the institute’s associate director Robert Newell.
Two of the hour-long workshops were held at the Yarrow Community Hall on March 23 and 26, with two more scheduled at the UFV Abbotsford Campus on March 28 and 31. They will also offer custom or virtual sessions for groups that submit a request to the university.
Surperle says those who participate in the workshops are first given questions asking them to think about their values and strengths before talking about their trauma.
“We wanted to give our participants the best chance of cultivating their own resilience on their own terms,” she says.
“And then you finish off again focusing on their strengths going forward and their newly cultivated understanding of themselves in the situation, so you don’t just leave them cold after their focus on the trauma.”
She adds that when journaling, they are encouraged to write about their feelings and thoughts in order to make sense of their experiences during the floods, or their traumatic experiences.
“If they write just about their feelings and it’s kind of a rant, then people end up feeling worse,” she says. “If they write just about their ideas, then it really has no effect.”
“So by writing about thoughts and feelings and how they connect … this helps people to make sense of their experiences and their stories in a way that provides [some] order from chaos.”
When Superle could return safely to Abbotsford after the flooding, she began volunteering at the Yarrow Food Hub. This volunteer-driven initiative helps support farmers by providing food, cleaning supplies, and more.
“I would hear a lot of farmers talking about the situations they were experiencing. It was just so intense, moving and traumatic, and nobody really had the time or was taking the time to process the events,” Superle says. “Everybody was so focused on cleaning up and getting back home and getting their animals safe and settled.”
Her experience at the food hub sparked the idea of writing an article to edible, a B.C.-based food magazine, and began talking to farmers impacted by the flooding. When she started interviewing farmers, she noticed many mentioned the loss of old diaries, journals, and letters that had gone missing or were destroyed.
In addition to Superle’s article, she has been researching expressive writing as a form of healing, and one of her first-year students wrote an essay about this topic, which inspired her to ask farmers if they would like to try this method in hopes it would help.
“Another really important factor with expressive writing is that it’s free,” Surpele says. “Lots of people can’t afford therapeutic intervention at $220 an hour, and some people don’t like talking about their feelings and experiences with other people.”
As the workshops continue, Superle says they are planning to offer more workshop sessions later this year. She also hopes to offer an expressive writing workshop for UFV students to provide more mental health support on campus to the university community.
“What we hope to be able to do is to get a couple more people on campus trained up through different support offices, so that we can offer this as an ongoing resource for students in support of general mental health, and not specifically related to the flood,” she says.
“These farmers provide a tremendous amount of food for us that supports our regional food security and also our economy … it will have an impact on all of us.”