The following is a guide to therapeutic writing and how to get started. Writing is beneficial for all of us because it can be therapeutic. Writing provides an expressive outlet for emotions and feelings. One of the goals of therapy is to build a strong foundation of awareness that gives us the ability to observe our thoughts and feelings without being taken over by them.
Writing is a wonderful tool for building that foundation. Writing can help us track spinning thoughts and feelings. Externalising these thoughts and feelings in a creative way, such as writing, allows us to view those thoughts and feelings differently. Creating this healthy reflective distance between our thoughts and feelings can provide us with key insights. These insights can lead to changes in the way we think, respond and view situations.
There are a few different ways you can approach therapeutic writing. One of the easiest ways is to start a journal. Journaling is simply writing down whatever is on your mind for the purpose of understanding it more clearly. The benefits of journaling are numerous. Several studies have looked into the effects of journaling and its all pretty positive.
Journaling provides a good combination of creativity, meditation, cognition and sensori motor function (the physical act of writing) to activate many different parts of the brain and body systems. When we work with our emotions and feeling in such a holistic way we are able to provide ourselves with deep healing. Regular journaling can lead to increased emotional processing and integration which in turn lightens the load on our mind and body.
To get started make it easy for yourself. Keep pens and paper handy and try to write for a few minutes each day. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or what others would think. Journaling is deeply personal and I encourage you to view it this way. Write to express not to impress. Write whatever feels right for you. That might change day to day so keep an open mind and let whatever comes to flow out on to the page.
This can be a bit uncomfortable at first. You might be very critical of what you write. I encourage you to persevere. If you find yourself stuck in place of self judgement write from that place or that voice, let it out. The point of journaling is to allow each and every part of you to speak. Its not all going to be poetry but some of it definitely will be.
Free writing is another therapeutic writing exercise that can be very similar to journaling. The difference is that you write non stop for designated amount of time. If this is new for you I’d recommend starting with just a few minutes at a time.
This type of writing can feel a bit strange. Free writing goes against our conditioned way of writing, which is considered, balanced, structured, and for others. Free writing challenges the body and mind to let go and this involves a bit of trust. So at first you may feel the urge to stop. Your mind may go blank, or you might have a repeating phrase of “I don’t know what to write” or “this is #@%*! stupid” .
This is totally normal. I encourage you to keep writing. Keep writing I don’t know what to write again and again. And after a while something else will come. It might be something you consider nonsense or quite abstract and it probably will be at times and at other times it will be a very rich statement or string of expressions that lead to a release of mental, emotional or physical energy or stress.
The aim of free writing is to allow the mind to share with you some of its uncensored material and this can provide some valuable keys to our ways of being. Both the act of free writing and the examination afterwards is whats therapeutic.
If you wish to go further you can. As you read back over your free writing some words and sentences may stand out or grab your attention. I encourage you to circle or highlight these words or sentences and then re write them on a separate piece of paper. Collect these words or statements and sit with them. Check in with your feelings or emotions as you examine them carefully.
You can then do another free writing exercise from this space and see what is revealed or you can arrange the words and make your own poetry. Please note that this can be a very powerful and revealing exercise. So practising self care is vital.
Enjoy free writing to create relaxation, build creativity and develop self trust. Free writing can be practised as often as you like. Many people have reported that starting their day with a few minutes of free writing, the moment they get out of bed instils a deep sense of calm and clarity for the day ahead.
Some people describe it as a mental detox that clears the mind and gives the feeling of a fresh start. This is particularly useful for anyone experiencing mind fog or mental fatigue upon waking.
In my therapy practice I might prescribe a guided writing exercise where I encourage the client to write about one of their experiences or feelings in a very detailed way. Following this exercise we discuss and explore what has been uncovered.
This supports the therapy process because it looks closely at all the elements of an experience. Such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, memory, smells, sounds, sensations, and context. It lays out all the retrievable information and provides an opportunity to make sense of our experience.
This is a great way of processing difficult experiences and often lessens feelings of stress, anxiety and overwhelm associated with difficult, confusing or conflicted emotions.
Please note, guided writing can expose certain feelings that have not been processed. This can be confronting and uncomfortable. If you are wanting to try this type of writing therapy I suggest doing so in conjunction with counselling. If you are trying to make sense of a traumatic event that is very recent I do not recommend this style of writing therapy. Studies show that it is only useful for processing such events several months after they have occurred. If you a struggling with a recent traumatic event I suggest reaching out to a mental health professional.
Please note that journaling, free and guided writing may not be right for everyone. It is just one aspect of a good mental health management plan that should also include healthy food, avoidance of excessive drugs and alcohol, adequate sleep and regular exercise.