When I was in private practice as a holistic health practitioner, I used a variety of healing modalities and discovered early on that one of the most effective therapies is therapeutic writing. When integrated as adjunctive therapy in an overall treatment plan, it can serve to promote psychological healing.
Most of us write alone. It’s a solitary experience. But in the back of our mind, we have the real or imagined reader. Similarly, when we’re the reader, we’re alone with the words of another person. That connection is like none other. It only happens in reading and writing.
Following the death of her son, one of my clients started writing him letters as a way to stay connected. She said, “It soothes my soul and helps me process emotions and stay grounded. Writing has been a vital instrument in my healing.”
The mechanics of putting pen to paper to tell our story can bring immense relief. A powerful outlet for difficult emotions, the physical act of taking what’s inside us, and transferring it to paper, can help us make meaning of situations and help us cope and even thrive.
Writing is an expression of the human spirit. One of my clients shared, “I wrote as a kid because I was so lonely and so beaten down by my peers that I needed to get out of my head and my heart what was happening inside me so I could deal with it.”
Putting our story to paper helps us go back to an experience and explore it. That act can help us to make sense of—or at least explain—what happened. In turn, it can provide relief and allow us to move forward on the healing path.
Another client shared, “For me, it’s the ability to think my thoughts—good, bad, ugly—and write them all down. When I sit down to write something, It forces me to deal with the emotions that I’m feeling.”
In writing our story, the challenge is how to move through the negative emotions to arrive at authentic expression—something that’s true for us—and then possibly, not always, share it, put it out into the world.
Another client is a Columbine survivor. She, along with some of the other survivors, write to each other regularly—handwritten letters. Putting pen to paper, they share their struggles of the past twenty years. This practice helps them to feel understood, less lonely, and less isolated.
Research reveals that creative expression can improve not only individual health but through empathy and compassionate connection, the health of society in general.
A different client lost one of his limbs while serving in the military in Afghanistan. He said, “When I was in the hospital, the first couple of days, and then weeks after the bombing [in Afghanistan], I kept receiving packages of letters. They’d get posted on the wall in my room. They’d be sitting next to my bed. They’d be in the hallway as I got wheeled to surgery. They were a constant reminder that all of these people were around me. Their words on paper served as a healing balm.”
Some of my clients are emotionally wounded children. With teenagers, their first question is usually, “How do I get past this pain? How do I deal with this pain?” I share that one of the best lines of defense is to write. One of them recently said, “That space to reflect [writing] helped me to express myself more freely. It was good for me.”
There is tremendous power in allowing a blank page to become a canvas for painting one’s innermost emotions. The physical act of writing is transformative. It promotes self-discovery, self-recovery, and more effective communication. Putting pen to paper helps us offload emotional baggage and focus on the essentials. It can help us move from surviving to thriving.