Writing is therapeutic and I’ve been enjoying its benefits early on without even realizing it. I started journal writing in grade school but as I grew older, the format started shifting and I dropped the daily habit. Nevertheless, I still turn to writing when things start going crazy or I need to get rid of all that noise in my head just to make myself feel better and more in control.
It didn’t come as a surprise then, when I found out that there’s such a thing as Writing Therapy. I didn’t pay much attention when I first encountered the term since it only served as an affirmation of something I sort of realized already over the years.
When I did decide to briefly look it up, I found it nice to discover that I’ve been doing the things being recommended by James W. Pennebaker, PhD of The University of Texas. A prominent name in writing therapy, he continues to do research on the subject with his team. Although healingwithsoul.com claims that research has been going on since the mid-1970s, scientific research on expressive writing is “still in the early phases” with regard to its true value, according to Pennebaker’s website. As someone who’s been writing down personal thoughts and experiences most of her life, I know that it really helps and I don’t need more scientific research to establish it to believe it. Here are simple tips on how to go about it.
In order for it to work as a therapeutic tool, you have to be uninhibited with what you write. Letting go is essential as you try to look into your deepest thoughts and emotions sincerely. Writing with the intention of disposing it is also suggested. It doesn’t matter how you do it—burn it, shred it, throw it or delete the file (if you’re using a computer) as long you get rid of it. I suppose this helps with full disclosure since it reinforces the concept that nobody else will see it. Fear of judgment upon discovery generally holds people back. Nevertheless, it’s still okay if you decide to keep it when you’re done. It’s your call. I find burning good when I write about things I really want to let go like grief, disappointment or rage. There’s just something I find rather symbolic about it that sort of brings about the release. Just try not to burn the place down if you want to try it too.
Since you’re communicating with yourself with no holds barred, you shouldn’t have to worry about grammar, punctuation and format. Remember, nobody else gets to see it but you. Suggested topics include: a specific problem or issue you’re currently dealing with; something that has unhealthy effects in your life; what you’ve been running away from or trying to avoid; or your dreams. I believe in all my journal-writing years, I’ve covered each of these at least once a year.
It is also important to commit to it once you started. Pennebaker recommends sticking to it daily for at least 3 to 4 days, with no less than 15 minutes per day. It’s up to you if you want to write about the same thing or choose a different topic or issue each day. Personally, I usually keep discussing the same thing until I feel like I’m really done with it regardless of how many days it takes unless something important enough comes up to nudge the topic out of the way.
Before you grab that pad or open a new document, however, it is still recommended to proceed with caution. Pennebaker warns that in their research, there had been a number of reports stating that it can also result in slight feeling of depression and sadness. This could be because the general instructions of their research deals with dredging up one’s most upsetting experience. Just stop should you start feeling rather upset in the middle of it or shift to another topic. Perhaps something that will help make you feel better is a preferable topic in such instances and you should probably consider exploring writing therapy under the guidance of a licensed professional if you always end up sad or depressed after writing.
Full disclosure and commitment are two crucial factors in therapeutic writing. Exploring your deepest thoughts and emotions can help you move on from the pains that life throw your way. It’s also an ideal way to hear that little voice inside you that you often try to ignore. Doing so can make you feel more grounded and you’ll have a better sense of yourself. But hard core writing therapy for those with real clinical issues and intense traumatic experiences would require the assistance of licensed counselors since unguided practice may have unfavorable results.
So to those who kicked the habit, go blow the dust off your journal, pick it up and rediscover the healing effects of writing. For the uninitiated, I encourage you to try it and you’ll find it quite cathartic.