As the director of the Trauma, Recovery, and Resilience Center (TRRC) at the Hosford Counseling and Psychological Services Clinic, Dr. Maryam Kia-Keating sought to gain a more accurate glimpse into clients’ daily experiences of stress. While weekly appointments in the clinic capture a snapshot of clients’ lives, everyday fluctuations in emotions and the strategies that clients use to regulate their emotions are better assessed as they occur. To better understand the daily experiences of new clients, and their long-term outcomes, Kia-Keating was inspired to create the UCSB Daily Diary Study.
In the study, clients at the Hosford Clinic fill out a short questionnaire, answering items about their feelings, and recounting that day’s events. “The daily diary entries give researchers a real sense of being in someone’s world,” says Kia-Keating. “It provides a comfortable, personal setting where clients can describe how they feel in that moment.”
Kia-Keating started the project last summer, opening it to incoming Hosford Clinic clients, 18 years old and over, who have experienced a past traumatic event. As they first start their treatment, these clients are asked to complete a daily diary for a two-week period, providing an inside look at their lives across the critical window of their first few weeks of psychotherapy.
Although this is a simple process, the implications are powerful: when clients have a week between appointments with their therapist, they may forget how they feel from day to day, and may not accurately capture their experience of emotional regulation and the coping strategies that worked or didn’t work. The diary study is distinct from therapy, and provides people with a daily opportunity to reflect on themselves, the challenges they face, and their successes. Participants in the study so far have already expressed their appreciation for having an opportunity to build their awareness. For example, one participant explains, “It made me more aware of how my thoughts affected me, and it allowed me to better interpret my thoughts and feelings so I could experience and understand them without being drawn into them as much." Some participants have also talked about how the process better prepared them for their weekly therapy sessions. After participating in the study, one person acknowledged “It made me look more honestly at myself.”
“There are lots of potential benefits for working with those who have experienced trauma,” says Kia-Keating. “There is a wide spectrum of experiences that people have had which can potentially lead to various mental health diagnoses. The Daily Diary Study helps us go beyond diagnostics and see what underlying mechanisms cause and maintain problems.”
“People may or may not delve into their traumatic histories in psychotherapy, but trauma can impact the way people deal with stress and regulate emotions – it affects all aspects of mental health,” says Kia-Keating. “Because so many have experienced trauma, better understanding these clients has the potential to help a lot of people.”