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Writing: A Healing Art
by Shonnie Brown, MFT
I have chosen to write about a subject valuable in my
psychotherapy practice as well as in my own healing work. Numerous
writing practices are currently used in both psychological and physical
healing. In this article I will discuss a few which particularly
resonate with me:
One Year of Writing and Healing,
Writing as a Way of
Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives
by Louise DeSalvo,
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by
Julia Cameron and Journal Therapy by
Kathleen Adams with whom I have studied.
Before discussing each individual program, I'd like to briefly
mention some benefits of writing as a complement or part of
psychotherapy and/or a spiritual practice.
A Few Reasons Why People Write
- Writing builds a relationship and understanding of oneself
through intimate personal expression and catharsis.
- Writing helps people to heal from loss, grief, trauma, illness
and personal tragedy.
- Writing assists and supports people through life transitions.
- Writing has admittedly given purpose and meaning to life for
numerous writers and memoirists. Author Alice Walker describes writing
as "a very sturdy ladder out of the pit."
- Writing reveals our vulnerability and woundedness at a pace
acceptable to us. Sharing our writing continues this process through
One Year of Writing and Healing by Diane Morrow
On her website, Diane Morrow
discusses a study of college
students done in 1983 by psychologist James Pennebaker in which some
students were instructed to write continuously for fifteen minutes about
the most upsetting or traumatic experience of their lives. They were
told to share anonymously their deepest emotions about a very personal,
unexpressed tragedy. These ordinary students wrote about their secrets:
the divorce of parents, abuse, alcoholism and suicide attempts. And in
interviews conducted after finishing four such writing sessions, these
students actually reported feeling worse than they had before. But four
months later, these students, compared to students who had written about
trivial things, reported improvements in mood and outlook and had
documented improvements in their physical health.
This particular kind of writing--expressive writing--is the style of
writing about which much of the documented testing and research on
writing and health has been conducted. It's been shown to improve
psychological well-being as well as
easing a wide variety of illnesses, suggesting that writing brings about
a general reduction in biological stress. For more information, read
Morrow's entire article here.
Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo
Louise DeSalvo takes Pennebaker's research a step further
by asserting that one must write about his/her life in a way that links
traumatic past events with feelings in order for healing to take place.
This linking of thinking and feeling through writing may be used for
healing in psychotherapy.
DeSalvo lists four essentials in using writing as a way of healing:
One must have a safe container--an empathic listener--to revisit and
confront trauma in writing. Thus, writing and psychotherapy are mutually
compatible for managing deeply painful emotions.
- Write regularly and in a relaxed way.
- Watch with relaxed awareness what occurs as you write.
- Accept yourself and your work, rather than judge it.
- Be patient; write routinely.
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
"Morning pages" is a term used by Julia Cameron for a creativity
tool which involves writing three private stream-of-consciousness pages
in longhand every morning. Cameron considers this process to be so
important that it is "non-negotiable." The goal of morning pages is to
help recognize and release one's
inner critic, the very stuff which blocks our creativity and connection
Cameron states that, "Morning pages do help us get to the other side
of our fear, our negativity, our moods. Above all, they get us beyond
our Censor. Beyond the reach of the Censor's babble we find our own
As with psychotherapy, a primary goal of morning pages is to
distinguish the critic's voice from our own authentic voice. We become
an observer of the critic, detaching ourselves from the paralyzing
shame. I have found it also useful to create an image for the critic and
develop a creative way to contain or externalize the critic from the
Self. In my work I view the critic, despite appearances, as having
ultimately positive intentions for us. The critic is fear and
Journal Therapy by Kathleen Adams
Journal Therapy is one of several writing therapies which encourage
people to access the power of writing through a journal. I first started
journaling in the early 1970s when I studied the Ira Progoff Intensive
Journal Program, a self-directed program which
encourages one to address virtually every aspect of their lives.
Kathleen Adams' Journal Therapy is especially designed for
psychotherapists in their work with clients. It is an intentional use of
reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual
health. It encourages frequent writing as a means of providing focus and
clarity to one's issues. Journal Therapy has transformed the traditional
diary into a therapeutic self-management tool.
I highly encourage developing a personal writing practice as part of
one's healing work as well as part of psychotherapy. If you are fearful
of uncovering trauma on your own or simply wish to establish a writing
practice for growth, it may be useful to work with a therapist trained
in using writing as a healing art. If you have any questions, please
feel to call me at (707) 526-4353.
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