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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the verb de-escalateis defined as “to decrease in extent, volume, or scope.” In behavioral health, de-escalation is a set of techniques used to decrease a person’s frustrations or agitation in order to communicate needs and concerns. De-escalation techniques can include verbal, non-verbal and written strategies.

            Writing therapy is an expressive therapy that can be used as a tool in order to ease, or de-escalate feelings of emotional trauma and anxiety. It can be done individually or in groups. There have been many studies since the 1980’s that show that writing about emotions can reduce physical and emotional symptoms leading to greater health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, enhanced immune functions and less sleep disturbances.

Writing as a de-escalation strategy has grown in popularity over the last 20 years with the advent of blogs – online or virtual forums in which people can discuss topics and ideas and receive responses from others. Bloggers typically write as an expert on a specific topic and use their writing to garner discussion from others interested in that topic. Writing in this format allows for the exchange of support with others who may be facing similar situations.

            TeenCentral (http://www.teencentral.com) is an “interactive website powered by KidsPeace as a free and safe prevention and intervention resource for adolescents.”[1]TeenCentral provides learning topics, resources and downloadable tools for adolescents looking for information, in addition to providing them a safe place to tell their story.

The Stories section of TeenCentral is an anonymous forum for youth to write what they are experiencing, similar to a blog. These stories are read by trained online counselors who write back with a therapeutic support response. Prior to being published on the website, the responses are reviewed by the TeenCentral administrators, who are masters-level clinicians. These responses are used as both prevention and intervention in that they refer the youth to specific tools and resources available and provide them a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

TeenCentral stories cover a vast array of topics, such as depression, anxiety, relationships, LGBTQIA+ issues, self-harm and family, just to name a few. The overwhelming majority of the stories are of people, mostly young people, looking for guidance and support. Some of the most powerful stories are from those that have undergone some great challenges and who wish to impart their knowledge and experiences to others.

All of these stories are examples of people using writing as a de-escalation strategy. These are people who are reaching out for help due to frustration, hopelessness, and agitation. They are looking for support and guidance. The TeenCentral Online Counselors provide this by responding to the stories within 24 hours. However, it does not stop there. These stories and their responses are then viewed by dozens if not hundreds of other visitors, meaning that there are others out there looking for the same support and guidance, but have not yet written their own story. So, not only is the writing itself a de-escalation strategy, but other readers are using the stories and responses as their own way of de-escalating what they are going through.

TeenCentral’s Stories forum serves as a de-escalation strategy. It is a beacon of light for people who are in very difficult situations and who feel lost and hopeless. Writing their stories allows them to put their feelings out there for others who may be feeling the same way and helps to decrease the extent, volume and scope of the thoughts and actions associated with those feelings. In addition, they also receive unconditional support and regard for their problems through the Online Counselor responses. The responses further the de-escalation process by connecting the writers to resources, providing guidance, and by simply serving as a non-judgmental and validating audience.

Writing is a powerful tool that can be used to define a problem, devise options, provide for disclosure, and ask for feedback and support. It allows us to take our jumbled thoughts, straighten them out, and then ask for help in developing a strategy on where to go next. Through writing, we can de-escalate our thoughts and emotions to the point that we can cope with them, in order to move forward.

[1]TeenCentral – Our Standards, http://www.teencentral.com/our-standards/(accessed September 5, 2018)

Jason R Frei, LCSW, MPA

Jason R Frei, LCSW, MPA

Jason Frei is clinical manager of the TeenCentral service, powered by KidsPeace.