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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

A Healing-Centered Framework

Authored By:

Carrie Usui Johnson and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team


March 01, 2019

In a recent Medium article, Dr. Shawn Ginwright of San Francisco State University shares his thinking around creating healing-centered engagement to support communities where trauma is prevalent. In defining what it means to create healing-centered engagement, Dr. Ginwright states, “A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.”

As I considered this question, I felt a natural connection to what we do as Cognitive Coaches. As Cognitive Coaches we support people to be self-directed and resourceful through an asset-based framework. By focusing on healing there is an acknowledgment and inquiry into the root causes (deep structure) of the trauma rather than just the symptoms (behaviors on the surface). Furthermore, Dr. Ginwright states, “Perhaps one of the greatest tools available to us is the ability to see beyond the condition, event, or situation that caused the trauma in the first place. Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor to foster hopefulness and optimism, both of which contribute to overall well-being (Snyder et al. 2003).” Applied to a Cognitive Coaching framework, this healing-centered approach allows coaches to support individuals in moving from their existing state to their desired state goal.

This idea becomes even more powerful as we consider the secondary trauma that many educators experience in supporting young people who have experienced trauma. As caring educators, the empathy and compassion needed to support youth around trauma can be difficult, exhausting, and without self-care and well-being, unsustainable. As Cognitive Coaches, we have the ability to provide a space for reflection that support educators in sustaining their own well-being and healing.

Lastly, as I consider the mission of Cognitive Coaching, “…to produce self-directly persons with the cognitive capacity for excellence both independently and as members of a community,” the idea of both the individual and the community stands out as a connection to healing-centered engagement. Individually, just as in Cognitive Coaching we consider the work of Robert Dilts and the importance of identity in making long-lasting and sustainable changes, Dr. Ginwright also highlights the importance of identity in healing-centered engagement. “The pathway to restoring well-being among young people who experience trauma can be found in culture and identity. Healing-centered engagement uses culture as a way to ground young people in a solid sense of meaning, self-perception, and purpose. This process highlights the intersectional nature of identity and highlights the ways in which culture offers a shared experience, community, and sense of belonging.” Meeting people where they are and acknowledging their experiences, culture, and identity to support their thinking is a capability that we, as Cognitive Coaches, have to support people on a pathway to their well-being and desired state.

Further, in supporting an individual’s ability to be self-directed with the cognitive capacity for excellence as a member of the community also requires Cognitive Coaches to consider what’s going on in the community that might require healing. Dr. Ginwright states, “Healing and well-being are fundamentally political, not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence.” When we take into account the external forces that are causing systems of trauma to exist, we are able to advocate for conditions that can possibly disrupt, break, and transform those systems. Here is where Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools intersect, as we also serve as community group members with the ability and capabilities to balance inquiry and advocacy for conditions that are more equitable and just for all people. And as we participate in supporting the healing-centered engagement of others, we also experience healing and well-being as members of a community consistently engaged in healing and building the cognitive capacity, self-directedness, and resourcefulness of others to heal.

In thinking about your role as a Cognitive Coach, what might be some of the ways a healing-centered framework might support the work you do?

What are some things that support you in keeping your own well-being during difficult times?


Ginwright, S. (2018, May 31). The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Retrieved from

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