Are There Negative Effects?

Caring professionals may wonder if there are negative outcomes in the aftermath of Pongo. Do Pongo’s authors feel suddenly exposed, vulnerable, alone, and without resources for coping, after they write about personal trauma with Pongo ? Do the teens have reason to regret their writing?

In 17 years Pongo hasn’t heard about such problems from youth or staff. In fact, instead of emotional “backlash,” agency counselors report quite different findings.

Jennifer Heger, a counselor for homeless youth at Orion Center, where Pongo worked, wrote: “I do not recall any backlash of emotions. My guess is that it is for two reasons. One, the [work] is done in a therapeutic context with trained facilitators; and two, the author controls the experience. Inherently, they can only write as deep as they are ready for…. It’s a readiness issue (therapeutically, developmentally, emotionally, cosmically, whatever). They titrate it.”(Heger 2012, private email)

Sashya Clark, a mental health professional at King County juvenile detention center, wrote: “In my time here as a counselor, I have never heard about or observed any negative backlash as it relates to working with Pongo. Young people have often commented on the positive experience of writing and creative expression that you all offer.”(Clark 2012, private email)

Vicki Belluomini headed mental health programs at Echo Glen juvenile rehabilitation center, where Pongo collaborated in the traumatic-grief groups with psychiatrist Ted Rynearson. She wrote: “In the years following the work we did at Echo, the only experience I had with kids who participated was continued growth and forward progress. I never heard one kid that fully participated in the group (or their staff) say there was any negative backlash. The group didn’t just stir up feelings and then give them no way to express it. Their writing it all down, and fully experiencing the feelings using this modality, IS the soothing.” (Belluomini 2012, private email)

In addition, Dr. Mick Storck, a psychiatrist from Child Study and Treatment Center (the Washington State psychiatric hospital for children) where Pongo has worked beginning in 2000, offered the following ideas about Pongo’s therapeutic value (Storck 2012, personal communication). Storck said the writing became a force that helped the teens define their own treatment hopes and goals. He said he could look at a list of Pongo’s 200 authors at CSTC and probably recall the times when, on their own, “30, 40, or 50” youth had brought their writing to him to read, including writing that criticized him or the hospital.

Storck also expressed the thought that Pongo enlivens the intersection of a number of treatment methods—Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Adventure-Based Therapy—in which the healing goal is to create a safe zone for experiencing and sharing risk. The experience of risk, and the effort to help others move through their risk safely, is part of the healing.

Storck described another dynamic area in the process of personal development and healing, a tension between separation and union. Poetry exists in this dynamic realm of the personal and public. He suggested that another reason why Pongo’s writers don’t suffer an emotional “backlash” in response to the openness of writing is that poetry is transpersonal. The Pongo authors’ writing is shared with their peers, it may be published, and it is always a part of the larger goals of Pongo, which include openness and understanding within the larger community. Storck described the group of Pongo authors with words such as “camaraderie,” “group productivity,” and “social giving.”