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Writing as Therapy
17 July 2018

Writing For Therapy


Many of us have dreamed of taking time out to write our memoirs, our first novel or a book of poetry. Perhaps we regularly fill in a journal. Somehow, the very act of writing makes us feel better. Well many health professionals are now taking that a step further and demonstrating that writing is a therapy perhaps more powerful than we might imagine. By exploring our concerns, it can help provide relief. Whether for reducing stress, helping deal with physical symptoms eg depression or merely for escapism through creative expression, we feel better after committing our gripes or innermost thoughts to paper or keyboard. Sue Reynolds in her 18 minute TEDx talk ‘Writing your way out of Trouble’ says that writing down what distresses and dismays us not only makes us feel better - it improves our resistance to physical illness, decreases the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves our sleep patterns,.


For some, it’s a relaxing pastime. For others it is a treatment within itself. Olivia Dungee knows the value of writing therapy and how it’s helped many sufferers. “Addressing their innermost thoughts and concerns thereby dealing with someone’s mental, emotional, and social health is surprisingly effective and can promote healing and overall well-being,” she says. And studies back her up * Research has shown that writing in a therapeutic way is not just good for mental health; it may even improve physical health, boost the effectiveness of the immune system, and promote healing.



  1. Reducing stress and symptoms of depression, fear and anxiety.

Deepak Chopra, self-help guru often says ‘we have sixty thousand thoughts a day, and 95% of them are the same as yesterday.’ Exploring different thoughts, eg immersing ourselves in a wonderfully self-indulgent twenty minutes of writing me-time, can spur on different thought patterns. It can help change thoughts about illness, meaning a more positive outlook. Try this one: ‘In your writing, let go and explore your deepest thoughts and feelings about the issues that you feel are most important to you right now.’



  1. Overcoming trauma and events causing psychological harm

There is evidence that writing therapeutically about difficult experiences can help people learn to cope with them. “Writing helps me stand back and reflect on what has happened” said over half of the participants in one study. Our memories are subjective. How often has a dream seemed as real as a memory? We can try re-writing the events in an awful memory, or lessen the impact it has when we re-live it in our mind. For instance, by imagining an aggressor with no clothes on and re-writing a bullying episode thereby making the foe a comical figure, the act of writing it down can often make it more real, and help rival the original memory. Rather than bottling it up, especially if someone refuses to talk about it, getting it out by writing it down can help.



  1. Writing for physical health

Research has also found intense, regular writing sessions can have benefits including physical changes eg even boosting the activity of the immune system. If we laugh it affects our bodies positively. Similarly if we write about the most amazing moments of our lives, it can leave us feeling far more elated, and have tangible effects on our physiology. Patients were asked to write about stressful life events for 20 minutes per day for several days. As compared to a control group, these patients had better physical outcomes related to their illnesses. /even if experts disagree as to why, it’s worth a try.


  1. Writing as therapy using a guided session eg with a trained therapist or online video, may make the most of the creative process.

To explore emotions and cope with negative feelings and experiences, some people work best with a guide.

 “I felt a lot calmer and more able to move on after writing about it and being forced to think about it. I loved writing about my experience.” Said one subject in writing therapy. For illnesses like cancer it can be very useful to help deal with the feelings of fear and being powerless.  At the 3-week follow-up, over half reported that writing changed their thoughts and over a third reported that writing changed their feelings about their illness. Olivia Dungee writes on Mesothelioma website, ‘Writing as therapy is not a new idea, but it is gaining more followers as evidence continues to accumulate to prove that it can have so many positive benefits for such a wide range of patients.’


There are so many potential benefits of writing, and there are no reasons not to try it. Some specialists offer writing as therapy sessions. But even getting a journal and sitting for 20 minutes a day can perhaps make a therapeutic difference.


One of the best ways to create a window to change your writing habits is a writing retreat. Many are available where you can just escape from your surroundings and everyday life and have some concerted me-time. As they say – a change is as good as a rest and for many, often with yoga included, country walks, healthy food and other writers who may be working on novels or poetry, that change could be the start of a whole new era in dealing with stress in your life.







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