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The power of therapeutic writing

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No, we’re not talking about a gratefulness journal or a daily affirmations journal either. This about using some different writing techniques to help deal with a trauma in life, or when in a difficult time period. And fortunately, it doesn’t mean having to relive that trauma either. That said, it can open fresh wounds that haven’t been fully treated, so if you have a recent experience, it may be worth it to wait a little longer.

‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I write and I understand.’ Chinese Proverb

A study in the British Journal of General Practice found that “expressive writing” or “therapeutic writing” helped patients in several ways, from decreasing stress and anxiety to improving breathing and reducing chronic pain from issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS.) Therapeutic writing also helped reduce physical symptoms of people with breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

A key element of any therapy is cultivating the ability to observe our inner thoughts and feelings. Writing is perfect for this! And you don’t have to have excellent writing skills for this type of writing either. It’s just by you, for you. If you want to share with a close confidant, you can, but you don’t have to.

Through therapeutic writing, you can organize your thoughts, emotions and this can lead to personal insights. Writing creates a mind-body connection as well, centering your sense self and being in the moment.

It’s also a low-cost and easily accessible form of therapy that can be done by yourself, guided by a mental health professional, practised in a group or as part of other therapies. All you need is some paper and a pen or pencil. Ideally too, a quiet place to sit and focus.

It is important to realize though that writing therapy is not the same as daily journaling and it is also not a gratitude journal! There are three major differences to therapeutic writing:

  1. Therapeutic writing is usually guided, with specific prompts, whereas journal writing is more free form.
  2. Journal writing is usually about events and things that happen and influence our lives. Therapeutic writing is thinking about and analysing events that have occurred and deeper reflection on those events and issues specifically and addressing the resulting emotions.
  3. Therapeutic writing is most often guided by a mental health professional and it is not necessarily a daily event like a journal.

Such expressive writing can have a significant healing effect as one study by Baikie & Wilhelm in 2005 found. The study showed that those who wrote about their most traumatic experiences for 15 minutes, four days in a row, experienced better mental health outcomes for up to four months later. Therapeutic writing helps us process experiences in our lives, bringing them into context and can often give a person insights to help them better design and live their lives.

How to Tips for Therapeutic Writing

You can attempt this on your own and develop your own style, or of course, you can seek a therapist. It depends on your needs. The important thing is to set yourself up for success. This doesn’t mean a rigid schedule you’ll break. Sometimes, you can just write when you feel it’s the best time and that’s okay. Don’t place constraints on yourself.

  • You don’t need a special journal book. A regular scribbler or binder is fine. You may prefer lined or unlined or even dot grid style if you think you may drawing a bit too, which is also fine.
  • While you don’t have to set strict times, do try to set a goal of number of times you’d like to write a week or month.
  • Your first entry could be why you want to write.
  • If you like, maybe decorate your journal, adding a customized cover with stickers or drawings. This is going to be a special item for you.
  • Think about what you want to write with intention
  • Set a time limit, but you don’t have to. Maybe start with 5-15 minutes, but if you’re in the zone, jus tgo with it.
  • Before you write, reflect a little and think about what it is you want to explore that day.
  • You don’t have to fill a page! A few lines may be okay, other days, you may write more
  • Find a good pen too. One that sits easy in your hand and is smooth on the paper
  • When you write, write as if no one else will ever see it, so you don’t try to “put on a show”
  • It is not important how well you write, don’t worry about spelling or grammar.

Ideas to Get Going

Sometimes, you may not be sure what to write, so here’s some ideas;

  • Write a letter to yourself for the future or your past self
  • Write a letter to someone else and let it all out
  • Write a poem or a song idea
  • Try a mindmap with the issue in the centre and branch out with emotions, ideas and thoughts.

Remember, you don’t have to feel constricted. This is about exploring your emotions and feelings and you don’t have to share it with anyone, unless you’re with a qualified therapist. Don’t write about things you did or are grateful for, this is NOT a journal like that.

Happy writing!

Discover More: Check out this interesting article on how the sword can help us with clear thinking.

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