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How writing therapy can benefit you

It’s as easy as ABC apparently. According to journalist Jim Pollard writing therapy is cheap, available to all, works on everything from anxiety to depression, has no adverse side-effects, and if its potency could be bottled and marketed it would be as powerful as Viagra.

Pollard continues his eulogy to the benefits of writing:

“It has helped groups as diverse as Vietnam veterans, psychiatric prisoners and sex offenders to deal with personal trauma. It has helped ease the symptoms in specific illnesses, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. It has been shown to boost the immune system and in one study even helped unemployed Texans find new jobs”.

And you don’t have to be ‘good at writing’ to feel the benefits. I have read about one therapist who was working with a man who she described as “virtually illiterate”. He was in a great deal of pain with cancer at the time, and in his therapy wrote a list of names. They were the children he'd previously disowned. He subsequently decided to meet all of them and eventually resolved many of his feelings around his relationship with his children.

Research into writing therapy

Most research into the benefits of writing therapy have been US-based, but UK writing therapy aficionado Gillie Bolton did undertake some much needed UK research in the early Noughties. Her book The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing was one of a number books and articles on the subject that she has written and is interestingly subtitled ‘Writing Myself’, a nod to the autobiographical component of writing therapy.

 Your writing therapy session begins here

Your writing therapy session begins here

The health benefits of writing therapy are now pretty well documented and research has unequivocally found that writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events leads to improvements in both physical and psychological health. Improvements tracked over a number of months following a therapeutic writing intervention include improved mood, lower blood pressure, improved vital organ functioning, reduced depressive symptoms, improved immune system functioning, and fewer traumatic thought intrusions and associated avoidant behaviour.

Writing can be done by everyone

Anyone can do this, whether or not they are in therapy, and it’s been shown that writing for around 15-20 minutes on at least three to five separate occasions can be very beneficial to trauma survivors. Used alongside a therapist who can work with the concept of therapeutic writing could help someone with trauma experiences even more.

Gillie Bolton recommends throwing all the conventional rules about writing out of the window. Forget spelling, grammar, punctuation. Forget sentence construction. Heck. Forget sentences. The writing hand, she maintains, knows what the talking and thinking mind is keeping down. She sees the benefits of therapeutic writing as being many. It can help us to:

  • work out and explore our thoughts and feelings
  • reclaim lost memories, both good and bad
  • talk about our experiences
  • unravel tangled-up thoughts and feelings
  • play, try out, think about things flexibly and experimentally
  • keep a record of our experience / knowledge / ideas
  • increase your ability to see other points of view, and collaborate
  • develop critical awareness
  • question previously-unquestioned assumptions

In the process of therapeutic writing we are likely to find an ability to share deep and significant experiences in a safe way, increase our self-confidence, and we may even create a satisfying story or poem that communicates something of importance to us.

After all, poets and story writers have been communicating something of important feeling for centuries. We only have to think of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and modern poets such as Sylvia Plath and Kate Tempest to understand the depth of feeling and meaningfulness of words set to a rhythm that we might call poetry.

Now, more than ever before, there are therapeutically evidenced reasons to go out and buy a nice notebook and pen.