Writing: Healing Therapy
ALMOST everyone I talked to was surprised when I told them about my recent discovery of writing as a healing therapy. Some of them said it must be me missing writing, and it has nothing to do with healing whatsoever.
Sure, they are aware and know about the benefits of writing a journal or a diary as a way to channel emotional expression.
But writing as a healing therapy is a new thing to most of us, including myself.
The fact is, writing has been used as a form of therapy since the late 1960s.
According to The Guardian (July, 2002), writing, has helped groups as diverse as Vietnam veterans, psychiatric prisoners and sex offenders to deal with personal trauma.
It has been shown to boost the immune system and in one study even helped unemployed Texans find new jobs. It also helped US students to come to terms with 11 September. There are no side-effects and it is available to anyone of any age, pretty much anywhere.
And seriously though if writing were a drug, surely this versatile little treatment would surely have a public profile to match Viagra. Since no company seen to promote it, is perhaps part of the reason why its benefits are so little known.
It’s cheaper than any drug – the cost of a pen and paper, or computer or handheld smart devices such as smartphones and tablets which are readily available in every household. Why, because the miracle treatment is simply what I am doing right now: writing.
I have been feeling a lot calmer and collected since I started this blog, 31 days ago. I used to be over thinking about things, and freaking out internally when things don’t go the way I planned them. My worrisome brain could render me emotionally paralysed.
I am sure some people out there may feel affirmed by the experience of sharing excerpts of their writing with a therapist or fellow members of a support group. While some others (like myself) simply prefer to seek private refuge in the writing process as and when the urge comes knocking on the door.
The concept of writing as a formally recognised approach to therapy was first introduced by New York psychologist Dr Ira Progoff in the mid-1960s. As a practising psychotherapists who had studied under Carl Jung, Progoff developed what he called the Intensive Journal Method, a means of self-exploration and personal expression based on the regular and methodical upkeep of a reflective psychological notebook. Over the years journaling has gone on to become a popular form of therapeutic writing with a multitude of self-help publications advocating the use of a reflective journal as an essential tool for personal growth and development.
Other forms of expressive writing have also become quite widely recognised for their therapeutic benefits, including poetry therapy, free writing, dream journaling, autobiographical writing, bibliotherapy and a music-based approach to therapy known as proprioception writing.
In practice, it is the act of writing down our thoughts and feelings to sort through problems and come to deeper understandings of oneself or the issues in one’s life.
Unlike traditional diary writing, where daily events and happenings are recorded from an exterior point of view, journal therapy focuses on the writer’s internal experiences, reactions, and perceptions.
Through this act of literally reading his or her own mind, the writer is able to perceive experiences more clearly and thus feels a relief of tension. This has been shown to have mental and physical health benefits.
Writing is about putting thought and feelings on paper which help give us useful emotional and mental clarity. However, there is scientific evidence that the relief that comes from writing things down is more than just psychological.
Dr James Pennebaker, a researcher in Texas, has conducted studies that show that when people write about emotionally difficult events or feelings for just 20 minutes at a time over three or four days, their immune system functioning increases. Dr Pennebaker’s studies indicate that the release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.
It is believed that by recording and describing the salient issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them.
Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness; recovery from addictions, eating disorders and trauma; repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
Anyone who’s faced down deep grief, been flooded with joy, been plagued by confusion and picked up a pen in response is likely recalling the trigger of that moment now. Oftentimes, we don’t truly know our thoughts until we put language to them.
In writing our experience, we move beyond the factual detail, obvious chronology, and surface reaction. We delve into the heart of the beast and come out changed for the passage.
Writing, more than speaking, presents us with a slower, solitary mode for reflection. Unlike conversations, we’re less concerned with another person’s reaction. We own our words in a more definitive way.
However, telling our stories can help us discover our passion and navigate complicated patches. We can delve into the parts of ourselves we don’t consider appropriate for public display.
People have been known to use writing as a medium for emotional expression throughout the centuries, and for many individuals it appears to remain one of the most effective means of articulating unexpressed or unexplored feelings.
Therapeutic writing is not about showcasing one’s literary skills – far from it. It (writing therapy) is about giving silent but meaningful expression to that which has not been, or cannot be, spoken aloud. A