As I lay awake in the middle of the night, I would feel completely alone. I knew I had a village of family and friends who were willing to talk to me at any time of day. However, in the middle of the night, it is hard to make those calls. So I wrote. And I kept writing.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. — Aristotle
When I was growing up, I developed a love of writing. I never had a diary, but I did like to journal or write short stories. I found writing especially helpful when I was sorting through feelings, such as a first kiss or a breakup.
When I met my husband in 1986, we attended college in different cities. At the time, long-distance phone calls were expensive. His only phone was a shared telephone in the hallway of his dorm. The limited access to the phone made communication even more difficult.
My first cell phone was ten years in the future, and neither of us had an email address or a computer. We had to rely on the U.S. Postal Service for most of our communication. As a result, I spent hours pouring out my feelings in letters to him, and he did the same for me.
After we both graduated and got married, I did very little writing. I never really thought about it or felt the need to write. I just no longer needed to write down my feelings.
In short, you have only your emotions to sell. This is the experience of all writers. — F. Scott Fitzgerald
After my husband died in April 2016, I was given a journal by a fellow widow who told me that writing was very therapeutic for her. I began writing in the journal and then quickly transitioned to blogging.
I did most of my writing on my phone, mainly because I wrote late at night when I was having trouble sleeping. My phone was always nearby, and I could write until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Writing helped clear my mind and enabled me to get much-needed sleep.
I didn’t publish everything I wrote, but I made it clear to my audience that I was writing to release my pain. I wasn’t going to leave the painful parts out to avoid making people uncomfortable. I wrote from my heart.
Over the last six years, I used my writing to document my pain, record memories, and celebrate accomplishments. Writing and sharing my words contributed to healing. My experiences while writing my blog also helped me decide to return to school to obtain a master’s in Professional Clinical Counseling.
While in school, I transitioned to academic writing. This writing type was more challenging, but it also contributed to healing by increasing my knowledge and providing a sense of accomplishment. I feel it also improved my writing skills and taught me how to research.
I began my internship in July 2019 and graduated in April 2020. I wrote about those accomplishments. I also documented the disruptions caused by COVID-19, including my canceled graduation.
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
― Graham Greene, Ways of Escape
Now I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. As a counselor, I encourage my clients to journal, and many of them bring their journals to sessions to share with me. I explain to them that there are many reasons to journal. Journaling allows you to document your progress. You can look back at entries from prior months to see how your outlook has changed.
I also suggest my clients use writing to articulate unspoken thoughts. Getting thoughts onto paper is essential when a client wants to say something to someone who is no longer available due to estrangement or death.
There are times clients write these messages in anger. Expressing anger in a relationship is not always advisable, and in some instances, such as death, it’s not even possible. Translating these thoughts into written words makes them tangible, something you can touch.
When a client has unresolved anger, I recommend that they write their thoughts down. Then they can symbolically destroy their anger by crumbling the paper into a ball, tearing it into small pieces, burning it, or even doing all three!
A teenage client recently became excited about the prospect of destroying his anger. He quickly wrote a message and then tore it into small pieces. His relief was immediate. I had joked about burning the pieces but gave him the disclaimer that he should use caution because we live in California, and a large portion of the state was on fire.
In the next session, my client told me that he burned the pieces safely in a barbecue. He was very proud and genuinely felt decreased anger. He planned to use the technique to write other messages.
Writing therapy is described on PositivePsychology.com as “a low-cost, easily accessible, and versatile form of therapy.” Writing therapy can be done independently or as part of mental health treatment.
There are also many structured forms of writing therapy that have proven to be effective psychotherapy treatments. These include Expressive Writing, Cognitive Behavioral Writing Therapy, Creative Writing Therapy, and Structured Writing Therapy.
Flexible, fictive, reflective and affectively “colouring” writing may increase a personal sense of resilience and one’s ability to tolerate intense emotions. It may also reduce isolation and make sharing and connecting with others easier. Positive effects may include reduction in intrusive memories and thoughts, improved psychological well-being, improvements in immune function and physical health, and reduced dependence on health professionals and other helping agencies. — Alena Golzitskaya
According to Alena Golzitsmeta’s analysis of multiple studies, there is some evidence that writing can decrease depression and anxiety symptoms. The forms of structured or facilitated writing therapy are particularly useful.
Since I am still in the early stages of my career as a fully licensed counselor, I am expanding my counseling skills and discovering different areas of specialization. I don’t currently practice a structured form of writing therapy. My knowledge comes from my personal experience and is not part of my clinical practice. Based on the studies I have recently reviewed and the effects writing has on my clients, training in this type of treatment would be an excellent future investment.
Until then, I will continue my practice of using writing to improve my own emotions. And I will continue to encourage my clients to write.