Therapeutic writing is writing about your thoughts, feelings, hopes…
Do you sometimes feel lost, overwhelmed by stuff or ground down by the demands of your life?
Do you sometimes wish you had a creative way to express your inner thoughts and feelings?
Writing is a good way to help us lift the lid on what is really going on in our lives, whether that is a memory or in the here-and-now. I’ve found it very beneficial to keep several journals over the years. Writing about your thoughts and feelings on many aspects of your life can be very therapeutic. Such writing or putting words on paper need not be scary as it is not for publication or feedback but to express your experience of your life. It is not about spelling or punctuation but expressing what is in your heart and soul.
In July 2016 I came across a course on therapeutic writing at City Lit in London and signed up immediately. I had been exploring ways to combine my counselling experience, interest in wellbeing and love of words and this seemed to harness everything. This short course helped to provide me with a context for therapeutic writing, supportive evidence and additional skills.
What is therapeutic writing?
Therapeutic writing, writing therapy or poetry therapy is about using writing or literature to bring about emotional healing and development. People use many of these terms interchangeably. I’ve also heard it called paper therapy referring to the evidence that writing on paper is much more emotionally engaging than using a device.
It is similar to journaling in that you are writing about your life. It is different in 3 ways:
- You are directed through writing exercises or prompts
- You are encouraged not just to write what happened but how it affects your thoughts and feelings then and now
- Session are led by a mental health professional
What is the evidence?
The therapeutic benefits of writing have been pioneered by Dr James Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology at the University of Austin, Texas. He discovered the healing benefits from writing about emotional upheaval.
His study showing the healing effect of writing about a traumatic experience for 15 minutes over four days has been replicated hundreds of times.
Other studies have identified the benefits of expressive writing on the immune system. A weakened immune system makes diseases more likely.
Happiness researchers have also demonstrated the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal in lowering depressive feelings.
Many of us are writing about our lives and sharing it with others. With texting and social media we write more than we’ve ever written but often this can be dictated by the demands of the world and the expectations of the audience. With therapeutic writing, it is expressing your truth as you experienced it. This can change from day to day, but you only need to write what you think and feel as you are writing.
Therapeutic writing gives you the opportunity to gain insight and this can help you to build self-esteem, feel more confident, make different decisions and be more present. Writing can connect you to your good memories and help you cope with less happy memories by taking a different perspective.
Below are 4 different themed workshops that I run. You do not need to be a great writer just have a desire to record your thoughts and feelings. The sessions are ideal for small groups but can also be used in a 1 to 1 setting. Often I offer 6-8 sessions but I am flexible on that. Contact me if you are interested in any of the following.
This is an opportunity to take stock of your life today and include some reflective writing in it. This could take the form of keeping a journal which we could expand on in our sessions. There are different exercises for helping you to connect to your past and your experiences in the present. We would also explore goals and the future life you envision for yourself. Examples could be – ‘The house I grew up in’, My role in my family then and now’ etc.
2. Writing for Wellbeing
A program where we focus writing on the positive aspects of your life and explore words that can move you towards a happier place. This can include rewriting the past, creating your own story, finding your words and making use of poems, lyrics, quotes to support your journey. E.g. ‘I enjoy…’
3. Writing in bereavement
In these sessions, you will find a place to work through the different stages of grief and loss. You may be experiencing shock, denial, anger, pain and depression. Getting together in itself can support you through the process. We could make use of journals, writing letters, telling the story, memoir writing and using metaphors. This could evoke themes of meaning and purpose and perhaps eventual acceptance. It will be your space to use as you see fit.
4. Writing through faith
If you have a faith or are seeking answers to the big questions then this could be a place to explore the questions you ask yourself. What has been your journey through faith? What supports your perspective and what hinders it? How do you experience your faith and how does that impact on your life? This is not a place for guilt or conversion but a space to be connected to yourself and be true to your journey.
Contact me to find out about the next therapeutic writing sessions in Reading to try this out for yourself. By using creative and reflective exercises as well as visual stimuli I will encourage you to write what is in your heart. As well as free writing we can also use poems to explore our feelings in a safe way. Through conversations and interactions with others on a similar path you will gain a better appreciation for your life.
“This session was wonderful. Very helpful prompts and lots of opportunity to engage with my faith and explore therapeutic writing. I found it very helpful, inspiring and interesting.” LS
“This was not what I was expecting (strangely!) but was so much better than what I hoped for. I need to do this more often. You led this so sensitively and beautifully, it really is a ministry.” KT
“This session was a wonderful way to facilitate thinking/processing in a positive manner. It helped to understand where I am at and gave me ideas to implement in life after the weekend. Very worthwhile.” JE
“This session exceeded my expectations. I never thought I would read out anything I have ever written to anyone. I find it easier to write out my thoughts than ask for prayer. Today I wrote out my usual junk but to my surprise people said it was good. This session helped me to rediscover my gift and now I feel more confident in God to use it.” CG
“I felt safe. I expected to learn from Shirley and I did! I expected to be challenged and I was! It is ok to share with new people. I would like to do this again and explore more. I will look at how I write my thoughts at the end of the day and BE MORE POSITIVE.” Unsigned
“Very eye opening. Safe environment has helped me identify that I’m coming to the end of this phase of my life and moving on to bigger and greater things. Hopefully 🙂 “ Unsigned