Therapeutic writing is a great way to improve develop your writing skills and improve your emotional wellbeing. It helps you to process your experiences, it teaches you to understand your reactions.
In the UK alone, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year (McManus et al., 2009), and 1 in 6 report experiencing a common mental health problem each week (McManus et al., 2016). As we live through the Covid-19 global pandemic, more people than ever are facing isolation, uncertainty, and financial pressures. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, but therapy can be expensive, and waiting lists are growing by the day. Therapeutic writing offers a free, creative, and constructive way to work through your feelings. Yet even for experienced writers, the very idea of therapeutic writing can be overwhelming: where do you start with something so big? In this article we explain 5 benefits of therapeutic writing, and offer some handy prompts to help nervous writers get started.
Therapeutic writing promotes thankfulness
Count your blessings…
(John Charles Earl, 1878)
Writing with gratitude isn’t a new concept, but it’s an important one. In essence, writing with gratitude means recording the things that you’re thankful for – experiences, events, people in your life, the little things you observe. Having this positive focus doesn’t mean you’re ignoring reality. Rather, it keeps fresh in your mind the things you DO have to be grateful for. Imagine a squirrel, gathering nuts for the long winter ahead: writing with gratitude allows you to harvest a rich supply of positive experiences and memories to warm and sustain you when life gets tough. And what’s more, training your brain to seek out the positives in every situation will boost your overall sense of gratitude and make your more aware of everything you have to be grateful for.
Therapeutic writing helps your mental health
The benefits of writing for mental health have been much chronicled. According to Scott (2018), writing can improve your cognitive functioning, reduce rumination, shift your perspective, and even strengthen your immune system. Writing offers you a safe daily outlet to explore your emotions, release tension, and process your experiences. It helps you leave behind the things that bother you and hastens your recovery from the stress of daily life.
The psychologist Barbara Markway once said:
There’s simply no better way to learn about your
thought processes than to write them down.
She’s absolutely right: to understand our problematic thought patterns, we first have to identify them. Writing is a great way to draw out negative automatic thoughts and reach the root cause of your stress, anxiety, or low mood.
Writing about your struggles (and your wins) helps you explore your experiences, so you better understand what caused your challenges and how to tackle them. Through writing, you can develop self-awareness, identify your triggers, let go of stress, and release those negative thoughts that you’ve kept bottled up. All of this will have a positive impact on your mental state.
Therapeutic writing aids trauma recovery
Writing can help you heal. That’s a bold claim, but it’s true. Whether you’re reeling from a traumatic event, processing a bereavement, or battling addiction, writing helps you to process your emotions and experiences.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to experience a traumatic event, writing can even help you to see the positive side of your experiences. That might sound strange, or even insulting, but it’s part of the route to mental and emotional recovery. Think of Mr Rogers’ advice:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news,
my mother would say to me: “look for the helpers,
you will always find people who are helping”.
Focussing on the positives, however small, reduces the fear and pain associated with traumatic experiences, even in the midst of all the painful, negative emotions. In short, writing aids recovery by providing a safe, cathartic way to relive your experiences and memories, set them into context, and develop control over your responses.
Therapeutic writing promotes learning and problem solving
Writing can help you learn; anyone who’s ever re-written a set of lecture notes can tell you that. But the educational benefits of writing extend way beyond the classroom – it can facilitate personal growth and self-awareness too. Therapeutic writing creates a record of your shifting thoughts and altered perspectives, charting how they change over time and why. It helps to solidify what you learn, so you can recall it more effectively in future times of struggle. What’s more, therapeutic writing can help you visualise your goals and solve challenges. Through assessing the possible outcomes of a situation and evaluating your options, procrastination is reduced, and positive actions are promoted.
Therapeutic writing improves your writing skills.
As you’d expect, therapeutic writing helps you develop as a writer. That’s true whether you’re a fiction author or a medical researcher. By reflecting on your thoughts, actions, and experiences, you become more observant and better at critical thinking. More than this, therapeutic writing helps you to develop your sense of self, giving you greater confidence in asserting your feelings and experiences. This is invaluable for those who lack the confidence to assert themselves in personal and professional relationships.
So that’s how therapeutic writing can help you, but where do you start?
If you don’t write regularly (and even if you do), the thought of sitting and committing your innermost thoughts to paper (or keyboard) can be intimidating. So here are some prompts to help you get started with therapeutic writing.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes, and write whatever is in your head. Describe the computer you’re staring at, write about what you last ate – anything. Just start write down your “stream of consciousness” and keep going till the timer is finished.
- Write with your subdominant hand. You’ll be amazed how quickly focussing on the act of writing helps you forget about the stress of setting your thoughts down.
- Practice thankfulness. Keep daily record of the things you appreciate, even the little ones. A compliment, a smile, an unexpected act of kindness. You could even include uplifting quotes you’ve read, and explain why they made you feel good.
- Keep a log of your successes, no matter how small. Write about what you did, and why it matters to you.
- Write a playlist of your favourite or most meaningful songs. Do you have a song that makes you want to get up and exercise? Is there a tune that evokes string memories of your childhood? Discuss the memories that each song holds for you, or how you feel when you hear it.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
Writing helps, but it can only do so much. If you’re struggling with your mental health, then you must reach out to someone. Don’t suffer alone. Whether it’s a trusted friend or family member, or a professional support service, you must seek help. Your GP can usually direct you to the most appropriate mental health service, and you can also contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour support line – just call 116 123 from a UK phone number.
Some people go on to share their therapeutic writing with a larger audience, through self-published life coaching books or articles in print and digital magazines. If you’re considering self-publishing or submitting an article, get in touch with Wordsmiths. We offer a professional editing and proofreading service to polish your words and prepare them for publication. Your emotions may be raw, but your draft doesn’t have to be. You can get a free quote by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or messaging us through our social accounts at Facebook and Instagram.
- McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey.
- McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014.
- Scott, E. (2018). The benefits of journaling for stress management. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-journaling-for-stress-management-3144611