University Writing Center Blog

Posted on November 7th, 2018 in Writing Strategies by Katie Sams

The Benefits of Therapeutic Writing

Written by: Kayla Hensley

It’s often stated that speaking about your emotions or your issues is a way to relieve the tension or stress they place upon you. But let’s be real. Talking to people about deeply personal information is hard. Sometimes it feels easier to bite our tongue and suffer in silence. Anything as to avoid the embarrassment or shame that can often be felt when disclosing something deeply personal to another human being. But it’s actually really damaging to keep that weight inside of you, just banging around threatening to come loose one day in a way you will regret far more than if you had just sat down and talked to someone about it.  But what should you do if there is not someone readily available to you or you don’t feel ready to disclose to something just yet?

There is another option, another way you can express difficult or emotional experiences without actually talking to anyone: writing.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “write it out”? That’s what you’ll want to do. Put pen (or whatever preferred writing utensil) to paper and write until you feel satisfied with all you’ve unleashed from yourself. It is not only a way to get those emotions out in a format that doesn’t require making yourself vulnerable to someone else, but it’s a tactile way to physically observe your emotions/experience and therefore make sense of them.

The great thing about therapeutic writing is that the writing doesn’t talk back. It just listens as you scribble out your thoughts and when you feel like you’ve gone through enough emotional turmoil, you can stop. It doesn’t ask that you keep going. This may mean you write pages and pages of writing, or that you only write a few paragraphs. There’s really no wrong way to do it. There’s no pressure in how to form your words and make them look tidy, because no one is going to see it unless you decide to show it to them.

Despite the writing not pushing you further than you can handle, that doesn’t mean the process isn’t always painless. Sometimes you have to be vulnerable and work through the things that hurt to reach an improved perspective and healing. Working through that kind of pain is what makes the process therapeutic and that’s how you’re able to gain something from it.

According to a study done by James Pennebaker, who can be considered to be the father of therapeutic writing, found that when writing about particularly painful topics, although the experience of going through those painful experiences or memories again is not enjoyable, writers are able to look back on the experience feeling an “overall improved mood and more positive outlook than they had had before the experiment” (Moran 96).

But more than just the peace of mind therapeutic writing offers, it also has its physical benefits as well. In the same study done by Pennebaker, “during the six months following the experiment there was a 50% drop in visits [to health centers for illness] for those who had written” about emotions in relation to painful experiences rather than those who did not (Moran 96).

Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of therapeutic writing, you might be wondering how to do it. Well it’s simple, just write. Don’t concern yourself about what you’re writing about, the topic will come to you, and don’t inhibit yourself from writing what you truly feel. This form of free-writing can be extremely beneficial in getting thoughts or ideas out of your head that have been banging around for a while. Now go on and get writing!

If you’ve tried the general approach and want to try something different, I suggest looking into The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself by Gillie Bolton where all forms of writing are encouraged for you to try out, complete with prompts to get you started!

Source used:

Moran, Molly Hurley. “Toward a Writing and Healing Approach in the Basic Writing Classroom:

One Professor’s Personal Odyssey.” Journal of Basic Writing, vol. 23, no. 2, 2004, pp. 93-115.