What if I told you that you could begin your healing journey with two simple instruments: pencil and paper? It may sound too good to be true, but writing can have positive benefits when used as a therapeutic tool.
While therapeutic writing is not the same as a therapeutic relationship with a mental health professional, it can serve as a way to increase self-awareness and emotional clarity and reduce stress and anxiety. One clear benefit relates to cost: if you aren't financially able to access individual or group therapy, therapeutic writing offers an opportunity to explore important themes in your life. Everyone deserves access to healing.
Engaging with the written word is a powerful process. As with any therapeutic technique, it's important to consider whether or not this may be a helpful approach for you. Here are a few potential benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind:
Therapeutic writing can help us tap into our hidden inner resources. Creativity, boldness, and a strong sense of our inner voice can all show up after spending some time writing in a journal. If you are hesitant to explore certain topics with other people, give journaling a try. The blank page offers a judgment-free zone for practicing courage and increasing confidence.
Writing can help to relieve the clutter in our minds. Day to day, we often wrestle with negativity and worry. Writing can give your anxiety an external place to live, leaving you feeling lighter and better able to focus on the present moment.
Writing can be fun! You don't need to be an award-winning writer to experience the potential benefits of therapeutic writing. There are many writing formats you can explore: essays, poetry, prose, letter writing, memoirs, and more. While each has its unique structure, allowing yourself to let go of perfectionism, have fun, learn, and grow goes a long way in the healing process.
Writing about difficult experiences and emotions can be re-traumatizing. Revisiting an experience to write about it can feel a lot like reliving it. This can be an overwhelming experience and may lead to different outcomes than you were hoping for. Writing with the guidance of a mental health professional can give you space to learn additional skills to keep you physically and emotionally safe, process impactful events, and increase your ability to handle any triggers that may present themselves.
Healing doesn't happen in isolation. For many people, myself included, writing to heal begins as a solitary process. Respect for my privacy has been a fundamental part of my own journey toward wholeness. However, we all have a fundamental need for connection and relationship; writing alone cannot replace that. To balance the value of both privacy and connection, consider joining a therapeutic writing class or workshop in your community or working with a therapist who specializes in this area.
Be mindful of the "I's": internalization and intellectualization. We internalize and intellectualize our emotions when we try to suppress, minimize, or dismiss what we are feeling. We all intellectualize our emotions to some degree, which can sometimes be helpful. If you have a big decision to make, you want to balance reason and emotion instead of acting solely on your emotions. However, if you have gotten into the habit of using logic to avoid your feelings (or if your writing is consistently taking on a similar tone), working with a therapist can be helpful in this area! Emotions are meant to be felt, and a therapist can help you embrace the temporary discomfort that accompanies difficult emotional experiences.
If you might like to try therapeutic writing but feel stuck, here are a couple of questions you could explore in a journal. Try setting a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and write until the timer goes off. As you feel more comfortable, you can try to write for longer periods to see what themes emerge.
Which part(s) of my day do I most enjoy? Which part(s) do I least enjoy? Are there any adjustments I can realistically make?
What values do I consider most important in my life (honesty, achievement, creativity, family, generosity, etc...)? Do my actions align with these values?
What are 3 ordinary things that bring you the most joy? When was the last time they brought you joy?
India McWhorter, MA, LCMHC-A is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate experienced in individual and group therapy with young adults and college students. In addition to supporting college students during their years of exploration, India enjoys working with clients who may experience depression, anxiety, grief, race-based and other complex trauma, and identity exploration. India utilizes a relational therapeutic approach, often drawing from existential, gestalt, and narrative-based interventions with clients. She is offering a workshop at Wisdom Path, PLLC, Healing the Write Way: Therapeutic Writing Techniques for Your Journey Toward Wellnesson June 24, 2024 from 10:00-12:30. Register here: https://www.wisdompathnc.com/event-details/healing-the-write-way-therapeutic-writing-techniques-for-your-journey-toward-wellness