Writing is always therapeutic to a degree. Something shifts internally when we commit pen to paper and put words on the page.
But when we sit down with conscious intent to explore, engage with, and express our deeper emotions through writing, something truly profound happens. We gain perspective, we find some necessary distance, and we discover space within.
Ultimately, we become more conscious of our feelings through writing them; in turn, this gives us the ability to know ourselves, and to become more familiar and comfortable with our emotional landscapes.
Therapeutic writing, sometimes known as written emotional disclosure, or expressive writing, was first investigated and identified by American psychologist John Pennebaker and his graduate student Sandra Beall in 1986.
Their research showed that just 15 minutes of therapeutic writing, performed over four consecutive days, resulted in an improved sense of wellbeing, and subsequent studies have continued to back this up.
Therapeutic writing can help to regulate emotions and physiological responses to traumatic experiences. It can support an emerging sense of self in adolescence, and it’s even been shown to improve recovery from surgery.
It offers the opportunity to reflect on our experiences, to consider our responses to the things that happen to us, and to release our associated thoughts and feelings.
Of course, writing about emotional experiences can activate us in ways that may feel uncomfortable, which is why it can be helpful to try out therapeutic writing in a facilitated space.
It’s important to feel safe and supported when we look into ourselves, and create something material from our innermost lives. Once we’ve learned how to find our boundaries, meet ourselves on the page and work within a free but protected space, we are likely to feel safe enough to continue writing on our own.
I’ve been a writer for my entire adult life, but the most therapeutic writing I’ve done has been some of the most challenging. Last year, I wrote a piece for a website called Caught By The River that touched into my experience of living far away from home, and all the challenges that has entailed down the years.
For me, as both a reader and a writer, nature writing evokes the sense of loss that accompanies homesickness and migration: whether I’m reading Robert MacFarlane’s descriptions of the English landscape, or remembering the sense of dislocation I experienced on first arriving in Australia a decade ago.
Yet, through exploring the difficulties inherent in moving across the world, I’ve also been faced with the connections I now have with my adopted homeland – a truly strange and beautiful wild place.
And I’ve also delved into that mysterious in-between space encountered by all migrants –and realised that this a place where, I believe, much awaits me.
Whether we try creative writing or morning pages, keeping a journal, making word maps or firing off letters, there is a therapeutic writing ritual for each of us. Writing for oneself means to write one’s Self. However we choose to do it, we can all find ourselves on the page.
Liz Evans is a British writer now based in Tasmania, where she is also a Jungian psychotherapist.
Together with Juliet McDonnell, she is co-facilitating therapeutic writing workshop Words for Wellbeing at Hamilton House, 10am – 4pm, May 6, £100.