For a long time, my source of release has been writing. Not long amazing pieces of literary genius, just rants. I write when I’m sad about an exam, angry at a friend for keeping me waiting or when life is generally kicking me in the arse. Some people feel better punching a wall or talking to a friend, I always felt more comfortable writing. I never really paid much attention to this; it was just something I did that made me feel better.
It wasn’t until I took WRI 221- Peer tutoring in writing- that I came across the term Writing Therapy. Writing Therapy, as the name suggests, is a form of therapy that employs writing as a tool. Some of us may already practice this form of therapy through our journals. Diaries are not just books filled with juicy secrets; they can also serve as a form of therapy to the writer.
We tend to bottle up certain emotions for different reasons. Perhaps we are just really private and don’t enjoy sharing the innermost workings of our minds with people. Other people may hide their feelings so as not to be perceived as weak or sensitive. Certain occasions may call for you to suppress your feelings to maintain civility. Someone just done something really irritating to you and instead of telling them off, you just silently boil with anger. Whatever your reasons, this suppression may be unhealthy and leave you stressed out and frazzled. There is the traditional therapy of talking to someone but this is scary for some; how do you trust someone and feel comfortable enough to tell them the things in your head? If this is the case for you, grab a pen and just write. You don’t even need a pen; sometimes I write on my phone or on my laptop. Writing affords you a lot of control: you can write and destroy the writing later on or go back to it and reflect, maybe even learn. Whether you decide to talk to a friend or confide in paper, the release is very exhilarating.
Writing therapy is also useful in treating physical and psychological ailments. It helps bereaved people cope with their loss; abused people come to terms with their situation; and even help in the rehabilitation of criminals. Writing therapy has also proven effective in alleviating symptoms of asthma, arthritis and can even help people suffering from cancer or HIV, to name a few. This may seem incredulous to some. What does writing have to do with our lungs or our physical health? One simple explanation I can offer is that writing focuses the mind, helping us to manage stress which in turn can boost our immune system functioning.
Writing therapy can be as simple as typing on your ipod in the privacy of your room or being in a group with an instructor. My formal writing therapy experience was conducted by my Writing professor during a class session held in a computer lab. For about an hour, she gave us instructions on what to write and took us through several stages. Each step was timed and after a certain amount of time, she brought on the next stage. I have probably missed a few steps and distorted the others but, to the best of my memory, this was the general idea of the session:
- Write about all the things that are upsetting you in anyway.
- Write a list of topics that you want to write about.
- Choose one of the topics and write whatever comes to your minds relating to the topic.
- Write why you chose the topic.
- Write everything you know about the topic.
She told us we could be as nasty and honest as we wanted as it was all confidential. After the exercise, a boy who seemed so happy said he felt a lot better and suggested we do it again. Several people said the exercise helped them discover their problems and even solve some of them. At that moment I found these reactions surprising because I didn’t think the exercise was beneficial to me. I was bored and I felt that I didn’t have much to write. I kept looking around to make sure no one was looking at my screen with their superhero vision. However, later on when I sat down to read what I had written in class, I realize I actually made a mini-breakthrough. I haven’t repeated the exercise on my own but I still employ writing as a therapeutic tool in my daily life.
You can go ahead and use the steps above and see if they work for you. You may also want to research more techniques online and maybe do them with your friends. You don’t need anything fancy, you can just write anytime anyhow and anywhere and on whatever topic you want. Writing therapy is free and has no side effects, so just pick up a pen and write.