Writing therapy is a type of expressive therapy using the act of writing and the processing the written word to increase the well-being of the client. Exponents of writing therapy believe that writing about one’s feelings gradually eases pain and strengthens the immune system.
Writing therapy can take place by oneself or in a group situation, and it can be moderated by a therapist or remotely through mailing, or increasingly these days via the Internet.
The therapy is usually administered by a counselor but once familiar with the concept, the subject can continue on their own.
When managed by distance it is useful for those who prefer to remain personally anonymous to do so, as they are not ready, and possibly never will be ready, to disclose their most private thoughts and anxieties in a face to face situation.
As with most forms of therapy, writing therapy is adapted and used to work with a wide range areas including bereavement, desertion and abuse. Assignments may include writing unsent letters to selected individuals, alive or dead, followed by imagined replies from the recipient or parts of the patient’s body, or a dialogue with the recovering alcoholic’s bottle of alcohol.
By far the greater part of the research into writing Session Planning therapy has been conducted in the US, especially in recent years. The earliest and most important work was directed, a psychology professor who became deeply interested in the physical and mental benefits of self disclosure.
In original experiments a group of students was asked to write for twenty minutes, on three consecutive days, about the worst traumas of their lives. An equal number was asked to write of trivial matters.
The findings were very interesting. Surprisingly, the amount of undisclosed trauma in the life of the average American student was surprisingly high. Secondly, there was a marked difference between these two groups of students.
For those students who had written of trivial matters there was no change either in their physical or mental health, whereas those who had done these brief trauma-recall exercises showed a marked strengthening of their immune system, significant increases in psychological well-being and decreased visits to the doctor and.
These experiments, begun over twenty years ago, have been widely replicated and validated.
With growing accessibility provided by the Internet, the reach of writing therapies has grown beyond belief. It has become possible for a client and therapist anywhere in the world to work with each other, as long as they can write the same language. They simply ‘enter’ into a private ‘chat room’ and engage in an ongoing text dialogue in ‘real time’.
With the huge imbalance between the amount of mental illness compared with the lack of skilled resources, new ways are continually sought to provide non-drug based therapies. Many internet-based writing therapy type sites have been formally evaluated for efficacy for specific disorders. Examples include paniconline.org, moodswings.net.au and moodgym.anu.edu.au for panic disorder, bipolar disorder and depression respectively.
Writing Therapy Online
Currently the most widely used mode of Internet Writing Therapy is via e-mail. Messages are passed between therapist and client within an agreed time frame, say one week, but at any time within that week. Where both parties remain anonymous the client benefits anonymity, i.e. they feel freer to disclose memories, thoughts and feelings that they might withhold in a face-to-face situation.
The client has time for reflecting on the past and recapturing forgotten memories, time for privately processing their reactions and giving thought to their own responses. It considerably reduces the amount of input from the therapist, as well as the speed and pressure that therapists habitually have to work under.
Perhaps the oldest and most widely practiced form of self-help through writing is that of keeping a personal journal in which the writer records their most meaningful thoughts and feelings.
One individual benefit is that the act of writing puts a powerful brake on the torment of endlessly repeating troubled thoughts to which everyone is prone. Most of us have been kept awake at night by such thoughts and find that they disappear if we write them down when we wake, allowing us to go back to sleep.
Though the accompanying feelings may persist for a time, the thoughts begin to integrate or dissipate or reach some constructive resolution.
Many are now taking journaling a step further and publishing their thoughts to the internet, either via their own blogs, or on their. This is an interesting phenomenon, and one that is proving to be very therapeutic, in that the writers are able to share troubling experiences, anonymously. The fact that others will read their entries is comforting, as they feel that they are ‘unloading’ to many people all at once.
To be able to switch on their computer and share recollections of war time, death of a loved one – even a pet, sexual assault, bullying etc is a little like unburdening yourself of these thoughts and throwing them out to the universe.