Writing Therapy: Healing with Words
My Writing History
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories as soon as I learned to write and I kept a journal through my teen years. When I read that journal now, I see my personal growth from a goofy 15 year-old to a (sort-of) mature 19 year-old. But, I also see my pain, confusion and sometimes joy as I attempted to understand the complexity of adult life. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, was that even then I was already on a path towards writing therapy.
At 25, I got a job as a marketing writer, and for more than a decade, I’ve worked in marketing communications with an emphasis on content marketing. This field involves writing but of a different sort. Although marketing writing is largely unemotional, I did gain significantly from my years writing marketing copy. I learned discipline and focus, and I learned to be precise and direct. Writing is what makes someone a writer, and the constant daily deadlines of marketing means you must keep writing, no matter what. When I returned to more creative writing pursuits, the discipline and focus of marketing writing carried over. As a result, I’ve found that I am a far more prolific creative writer than I ever was before.
Finding Writing Therapy
Then, a few years ago, during my Master’s degree, I discovered writing therapy, and it was an epiphany. Although I’ve always written, my writing before this discovery was stiff and shallow, guided by an internal critic. I unconsciously followed the “rules” of writing that made my words sound cliché. Writing therapy, also called therapeutic writing, expressive writing, and developmental creative writing, opened up a new world for me. Thereafter, my writing became a conscious quest for self. In my PhD studies, I’m now focused on the study of writing creatively for the purposes of personal development and the theoretical field that is growing out of that concept.
Brenda Ueland, in her wonderful book, If You Want to Write, says “When you get down to the True Self and speak from that, there is always a metamorphosis in your writing” (102). The most significant thing I’ve learned from writing therapy is how to be vulnerable, to put all of myself down on the page. Writing therapy has taught me to dig deep inside myself. Ultimately, I found that once I learned to relax and open up on the page, the quality of all my work improved, even my marketing writing!
Writing to Heal
Sophie Nichols in “Beyond Expressive Writing,” says the writer gains some initial release from writing her feelings out onto the page and then moves on to begin to shape her material, learning to craft and redraft it, ultimately developing a new relationship with aspects of her self-experience, perhaps by experimentation with form, perhaps by fictionalizing or retelling the initially expressed material from a different point of view” (174). That’s a mouthful, but the core message of the therapeutic writing field is that it’s possible to write your way to healing. By writing about your personal experiences, you can achieve a sense of peace and acceptance of life’s challenges.
Have you ever noticed that people who can look inward are better able to develop and grow in all areas of their life? Writing therapy helps a person reflect, unlocking what they keep hidden, even from themselves. This leads to understanding and healing.
The therapeutic writing and healing field is still early in its development. Although empirical evidence that show the benefits of therapeutic writing is only just emerging, it is clear on an intuitive level that writing to heal the self just makes logical sense.
Nicholls, Sophie. “Beyond Expressive Writing: Evolving Models of Developmental Creative Writing.” Journal of Health Psychology (2009): 171–180. Online.
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write. Mansfield Centre: Martino Publishing, 2011, 1938. Print.
*This article was originally published on January 7, 2018.
About the Author
Kat McNichol is the Co-Editor for the Journal of Integrated Studies and the Editor-in-Chief of Dreamers Creative Writing. She is also a Director of Marketing-Communications in Waterloo and has spent the past 12+ years writing marketing copy for the high-tech industry. She holds a B.A. in English Literature, an MAIS in Writing and New Media, and Literary Studies, and she is completing a PhD in Career Writing.
Interested in learning more about therapeutic writing? Check out the writing workshop series, “Writing to Heal” run by Allison McDonald Ace.
I’m also running a therapeutic writing workshop, “Writing to Find Yourself” at the University of Guelph.
You can also read my article, “Why Therapeutic Writing” to learn more. Do you want to read more articles like this one? Subscribe to Dreamers Creative Writing’s email list!