Writing Therapy: Definition, Tips and Benefits

When you need help processing emotions and feelings, there are many ways to seek it. Therapy comes in many forms, from talk therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy to less conventional means, such as horse therapy, art therapy, or, as we will discuss here, writing therapy. Using the written word as a means of self-expression has a long history, and in this article, we’ll take a look at how writing can be used as a form of therapy to help us to process and express our feelings. We’ll also look at some of the benefits of using writing as a form of therapy and why it might be the right choice for you.

Defining Writing Therapy and What’s Behind It

But first, we need to define what writing therapy is. According to most experts, writing therapy is the act of using the written word as a form of therapy by writing and processing what was written. Writing therapy can take many forms and may be practiced individually or in a group setting, and it can occur in person or mediated via the internet. Typically, writing therapy is conducted by a therapist who will assign and review the client’s writing in order to help guide the patient through the therapeutic process. As with most types of therapy, writing therapy is usually individualized to the client and is tailored to their psychoneurotic issues and needs.

Writing Therapy: Helping People Process Things for Decades

James Pennebaker pioneered the use of expressive writing as a form of therapy in the 1980s. In the most important experiment on the effectiveness of expressive writing for dealing with trauma, Pennebaker divided volunteers into two groups. The first was asked to write expressively about a past trauma for fifteen minutes per day for four days, while the other group was asked to write objectively about a neutral topic. Following the experiment, Pennebaker found that those who wrote expressively about their traumas made fewer visits to their doctors over the succeeding months, a phenomenon that Pennebaker attributed to a boost to the immune system caused by expressing traumatic emotions through expressive writing. A similar study that followed asthma sufferers found that those who engaged in writing therapy and wrote about their most deeply held traumatic memories experienced better health outcomes than those who did not.

While Pennebaker’s research has been repeated and confirmed, there is still debate over what causes the observed phenomenon and whether the act of writing causes it or the conditions leading up to and resulting from the writing process. Either way, the benefits have been measured across many studies and include improvements in mood, abatement of depressive symptoms, increases in immune response, and lower blood pressure. Because of these health benefits, writing therapy has become a useful tool in the arsenal of those who provide therapeutic counseling.

Writing Therapy Challenges and Shortcomings

One of the major challenges facing counselors who provide therapeutic writing is that there are more clients who need counseling services than there are counselors and analysts to provide that service. As a result, distance therapy programs are on the rise, particularly those conducted via the internet. Therapeutic writing can be conducted by phone, via video conferencing software, or even asynchronously via email or a secure messaging application. The therapist, in this situation, provides the client with a writing prompt, and the client can conduct the writing exercise on their own time and return the writing to the therapist when finished.

When conducted online, there is a greater screen of anonymity between therapist and client, which can be beneficial in making it easier for the client to express feelings that the client may have difficulty in expressing face-to-face. Because an online therapist may appear more neutral or anonymous than one that is encountered in person, online writing therapy can be more client-focused, creating a deeper and more meaningful therapeutic experience for the client in terms of exploring and expressing emotions.

Individual Practice: Writing Therapy for Everyone

Individuals can also practice writing therapy on their own. For centuries, the act of writing a daily journal has provided solace for millions of people. Writing a diary or a journal can help individuals to process their feelings and let out their emotions about the day without the pressure of needing to share these feelings with others. When a person feels free to express their feelings in a safe and controlled way, it can provide an outlet for emotions that might otherwise be held inside, causing anxiety, or expressed inappropriately to others, creating conflict.

To start journaling, follow the WRITE method:

  • W – What are you going to write about? Be specific.
  • R – Review or reflect on what you plan to write about. Try to focus quietly on the event.
  • I – Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about the structure, grammar, or other mechanics of writing.
  • T – Time yourself as you write for between 5 and 15 minutes.
  • E – Exit the writing activity by reviewing what you wrote and summarizing the main idea in one or two sentences.

We all know that finding time for academic work when you are either in therapy or trying to learn to conduct therapeutic services can be hard. If you are engaged in writing therapy or planning to study how to facilitate writing therapy in a college or university program, you may find that using writing services from a professional online company like SmartWritingService can help you to achieve the high-quality essays and papers that you need to achieve your academic goals.