Friday, June 6, 2008

Writing to Heal (Part 4)

The big question that concerns people is whether "writing to heal" is somehow different than "talking to heal." In Writing to Heal, Dr. James Pennebaker, writes: "Does talking about a trauma work as well as writing about it? It depends. One study compared talking about a trauma into a tape recorder with writing. Both techniques were equally beneficial.

"Talking to someone about a trauma is far more complex than writing about it. To the degree the other person accepts you no matter what you say, and you can be completely honest in your disclosure, then talking may be more effective than writing. But here's the rub. If the person you confide in does not react favorably to you and to what you have to say, then talking may actually be worse for you than not confiding at all.

"What about writing and then reading what you have written to someone else? Same problem. If your audience doesn't react ideally to what you say, you may come away with even more negative feelings. The only study that found negative effects for emotional writing required trauma patients to write about their traumas and then read their stories to other people in a group. Contrary to the researchers' expectations, the public reading made the patients more depressed.

"...People usually don't talk about emotional upheavals because they fear others' reactions. The purpose of expressive writing is for you to be completely honest and open with yourself. Your audience is you and you alone.

"...Unlike every paper you wrote in school, expressive writing doesn't need to be read by anyone. In a study in our lab several years ago, we asked students to write about a trauma either on regular paper or on a child's Magic Pad. (Remember Magic Pad?) You write on a sheet of gray plastic, and when you lift the sheet, all the writing disappears. The same benefits accrued."

On Monday I'll discuss Poetic Medicine by John Fox. Stay tuned!


Chica. said...

Hey, Susan, it's been awhile. It's Chica. I stop by now and again.

I liked your post today. I find that the use of stark honesty on my blog is a great form of therapy. I've been at it for a couple of years now, and it still feels great to sit and write out my feelings without judgment.

Hope you're doing well!

Jazz said...

I would have to agree that the part that heals us is the getting it out, not getting it out for an audience. I know I didn't get nearly as much out of therapy as I have out of my journal, because in therapy there are places I just cannot, will not go. Not for any audience other than myself, no matter how sympathetic. My trust is a difficult thing to earn, I guess.

P.J. said...

That is what I love about my journal - the fact that I can write whatever I want and no one is going to judge it, or me.

My friend told me once about some hurtful things that had been said about her. She was told to take pieces of paper, write down those things, then put them in a bag. She was able to express the words, how she felt, etc, and then let it go by literally taking the bag of "hurt" and putting it away.

Not much compares to writing from the depths of the soul, and receiving healing from it.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Chica,
So nice to hear from you. I'll check out your blog later today when I return home. Yes, I would agree that honesty is the best form of therapy. Hope you're doing well too!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

You and I must be very similar that way. I, too, got very little from therapy.

Toward the end when I was very sick (and--by the way--my therapist never diagnosed clinical depression or bipolar disorder even though the depression symptoms were classic), and I couldn't drive to the therapy sessions, I began faxing poems and other things I'd written to her.

That was the most productive part of the entire experience. I finally felt I was being heard!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I think that's a great idea about writing things and putting them in a bag of "hurt."

I love what you wrote about "Not much compares from writing from the depth of the soul and receiving healing from it."


Michael Sicurello said...


In the sea of useless drivel on the web, there swims a voice that I want to read.

... linking to your blog.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Michael,
I assume that's a compliment! (smiling face)