Pilot Studies of Pongo

The most recent research on Pongo was a pilot study conducted in fall 2015 by Seema Clifasefi, PhD (Assistant Professor) and Susan Collins, PhD (Associate Professor) of University of Washington - Harborview Medical Center. The subjects of the study were chronically homeless, alcoholic adults in supportive housing. According to Dr. Collins: "Findings indicated a statistically significant before/after decrease in alcohol craving for participants in Pongo. We also found nonsignificant but pretty substantial before/after decreases in negative affect (current mood state) and increases in positive affect. So we have the numbers to back up the resounding testimonials from residents indicating your program is awesome." Dr. Clifasefi and Dr. Collins are now planning future research on Pongo.

In 2001, Pongo collaborated inside a juvenile rehabilitation facility with psychiatrist Ted Rynearson, who had a Soros Foundation grant to study his Restorative Retelling model for traumatic grief therapy (Rynearson 2001). Traumatic grief is the difficult grief a person experiences after a sudden, violent loss, such as a loss from murder or suicide. Over half of the young people in prison have suffered exposure to violent death (Steiner, Garcia, and Matthews 1997).

The Rynearson study (Rynearson et al 2006) was not about Pongo specifically, but in three of the four 10-week groups, Pongo writing activities constituted half of the therapy group’s time. In all measures of pre- and post-testing, including the Beck Depressive Inventory, Inventory of Traumatic Grief, and Revised Impact of Events Scale, the youth in Dr. Rynearson’s groups showed a significant decrease in their levels of distress.

In 2006, Miral Luka, PsyD, received Washington State approval to evaluate the work of 15 Pongo authors at the state psychiatric hospital for children. The youth worked with Pongo during one group session and one individual writing session. Dr. Luka did a textual analysis of the teens’ writing and found that the youth not only wrote with depth and detail about their particular issues, but that the creative writing turned out to be a more complete and descriptive representation of a teen’s issues than the reported diagnosis.

In her conclusion Dr. Luka wrote: “I found Pongo to be a relevant, effective tool for helping youth thoughtfully connect with their past difficult experiences, current mental health issues and salient behavioral issues, and, in a field where establishing rapport and getting teens to open up is an accomplishment worthy of its own glory, to have great capacity to be used as a tool to connect adults and such youth in the midst of their experiences” (Luca 2006, unpublished report, p. 3).

     Rynearson, Edward K. 2001. Retelling Violent Death.
     Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.

     Rynearson, Edward K., et al. 2006. Restorative Retelling
     with Incarcerated Juveniles. In Violent Death: Resilience and
     Intervention Beyond the Crisis
, edited by Edward K. Rynearson,
     pp. 275-291. New York: Routledge.