Writing As Therapy
It is widely accepted that talking about your problems can help ease tension and stress. But did you know that writing about them can do a very similar thing? Throughout history, literary greats (many of which struggle from mental health or addiction issues) have advocated this form of therapy. Graham Greene noted the benefits of writing as a form of cathartic expression and didn't only make a living from his writing but used it to exorcise the demons from his bipolar disorder too. Much like its counterpart, bibliotherapy (which focuses on therapy/recovery through reading) writing therapy can be done clinically alongside a therapist or as part of a support group. More often though, it is done on a personal level - in this way it doesn't matter what you write, how good your spelling and grammar is or even if you decide to burn your words afterwards. It is purely about emotional release and recovery. Here are some things you should know about writing and how it can help you.
What is writing therapy
Writing therapy is a form of expression that allows an individual to record, reflect upon and sometimes purge troublesome thoughts, experiences or emotions that are causing them pain by writing them down. Many people find that this is easier than saying them out loud. There are many methods of writing therapy varying from subconscious scribbling to well crafted manuscripts. Writers who have written and published autobiographies have often classed the process of looking back on their life as a very cathartic experience.
On of the most popular forms of writing therapy is free writing or stream of consciousness writing. This is where an individual simply puts down on paper whatever thoughts come into their mind without any attempt to edit or make sense of them. This can provide an intense insight into the subconscious and is a good way to release negative emotion.
Other forms of writing can be more balanced and may involve looking back and recording a past life event like in a narrative form like a story in order to make sense of it. Letter writing is also considered as a good method of gaining closure from situations or people you may feel that you have unfinished business with – even if the letter is never sent. And journalling can be useful in recording your goals, milestones and progress.
Who can benefit from it
At some point in our lives, all of us will experience stress, pain or emotional upset so technically writing therapy can help us all. However it can be particularly useful for those suffering from mental illness such as depression or anxiety as it has been proven to have a calming effect and reduce symptoms alongside medication and other treatments. It has also been proven to be useful for people who have gone through traumatic events - writing programs for war veterans are growing in popularity across the country. Recovering addicts are also likely to benefit from it. This is all because writing therapy aims to help people come to terms with their past and simultaneously plan a brighter, happier future.
How does it work
Writing therapy can improve physical, emotional and psychological health in many ways. In short, the process of writing down feelings and experiences is a way of releasing them instead of internalizing them – when we do this we tend to lose perspective of our problems and allow them to build up and overpower us. Writing them down allows us to release them and move on from them. It also gives us the opportunity to make sense of things. Sometimes when we have a lot of troublesome thoughts rattling around in our brain it can feel overwhelming but writing them down allows us to record them objectively and consider them thoughtfully, then put a strategy in place to overcome them – it gives us back some control. The very act of typing or writing is thought to be meditative and repetitive in its nature and this too can allow us to feel calm and de-stress.
In turn all of this can help improve several other areas of our life. We become less troubled and stop devoting so much time to our problems, giving us more capacity to focus on other more rewarding aspects of our life such as engaging with others, building meaningful relationships and pursuing our own goals. Without all of this internalized stress and worry, we also become physically healthier. Our sleep patterns improve, our immune system is stronger and our blood pressure comes down.
New York Times, Books of the times, accessed 22.11.15
Veterans Voices, Writing Therapy, accessed 22.11.15
Write as Rain, Why Does Writing Improve Your Health, accessed 22.11.15
PsychCentral, The health benefits of journalling, accessed 22.11.15