Over the past few decades, the power of writing as therapeutic has been realized. When one puts pen to paper, a cathartic experience occurs. Simply put, when you “let go” of emotions and thoughts being restrained and are free to express yourself, you feel better. As such, writing has proved effective for many different difficulties and mental illnesses, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, grief/loss, chronic illnesses, eating disorders, interpersonal/relationship difficulties, difficulty with communication skills, low self-esteem, and in relation to this treatment center – substance abuse.
Writing is effective for these difficulties/concerns due to the various benefits it can provide both in the therapeutic setting with a licensed professional as well as outside sessions. The therapeutic power of writing is associated with practicing creative expression, leading to an increase in personal growth, empowerment, confidence, joy, feeling “heard”, and control over the user’s life. Writing can also help “let go” of negative memories and associations, feel more comfortable with vulnerability, and manage stress. Those with traumatic and/or stressful events have found that writing has a substantial healing effect. This is where the sense of catharsis and “feeling better” occurs. Thus, the process is more important than the outcome.
You do not need to be a “good” writer, or even a writer at all, to benefit from the process – all that is required is paper, a writing utensil, and the motivation to write. No matter what you have written, you wrote it. It is important to note how you felt when you wrote it, and when you read it out loud. The task requires serious self-examination, attempting to make sense of the past by isolating experiences, events, and people that contributed to one’s life and inspecting them from different angles. Seeing cause and effect and understanding one’s mental processes can increase self-understanding. As a result, writing is liberating, where oftentimes it can be seen as a “journey” – one can confess the past, commit to change, and move on.
In the beginning, it may feel different to begin. However, it is always the first step that is the most difficult. The following are some tips to help get you started on your writing journey:
- Pick a place for your writing. Try to pick a format most comfortable for you – a classic journal, notebook, or even an online journaling program or blog. Some people may find it beneficial to decorate or personalize their journals to entice them to continue using it.
- Set goals. Try to make realistic goals regarding when, where, and how long you will write each day. Some people find timing themselves beneficial (i.e. writing for 5-15 minutes straight). This will help you make a commitment to practicing this coping skill.
- Decide what to write about. Figuring out what you want to write in the first place can help set the tone for your session and give you a starting point. Placing this at the top of the page can help keep you focused, and could even be the first entry in your journal to set up the rest of your entries and give you a warm-up in the beginning.
- Do not judge your writing experience. Try not to be hard on yourself if you cannot think of a subject to start with, as taking your time to write and giving it your full attention is most important. Also, do not fret about how “well” you are writing – focus on what makes sense to you and what comes naturally. Finally, if you only write a few words, or several pages, it is okay – just write at your own pace.
- Review/reflect on your writing. It is essential to take time after you are finished writing to investigate what thoughts and/or feelings arose. Also make sure that while you are writing, you take enough time to thoroughly explore those thoughts and emotions so that your reflection can lead to insight and increased self-awareness. The more you write, the more likely your subconscious will begin to reveal itself. You can even write these reflections down as well to look back on for patterns in your insight over time.
Over time, you may find that you are struggling with what to write about. If this happens, try the following ideas or exercises to keep yourself involved:
- Write about where you are in your life at this moment.
- Write a poem and then reflect on it.
- Write a letter to yourself or to others. The relationships we have with ourselves and others contain a lot of thoughts and emotions attached to them.
- Free write (whatever comes to your mind). A stream of consciousness can reveal a lot.
- White about something you are struggling with or an event that’s disturbing you in the third person. This will help you gain an objective/outside view of the situation.
- Keep a list of things you are grateful for, such as things you appreciate or uplifting quotes. Maintaining a log of successes can also be helpful. This can aid in times of distress to maintain a positive mindset.
- Mind mapping (drawing maps with your main problem in the middle and branches with different components of the problem), this will help you practice problem-solving.
All in all, writing is a great coping skill to begin practicing for therapeutic benefits. This can be done as a solitary activity to decompress from daily events and process emotions/thoughts and can also be practiced with the guidance of a licensed professional to aid in therapy sessions. Talk with a Right Path counselor to explore what feels best for your treatment/recovery.