Can writing down your thoughts, feelings and experiences be a healing experience? Can it change your entire life for the better? More and more studies show it can.
Human beings have used the written word to explore their emotions for thousands of years, but only recently has research shown that the very act of writing can be restorative and remedial.
In his book, Writing to Heal, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas, says ‘emotional writing’ can improve people’s sleep habits, work efficiency and relationships.
His formula is simple: ‘Write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days.’
Two decades ago Pennebaker showed that college students who wrote expressively about traumatic experiences were less likely to need to seek a doctor than those who did not. Some even saw their grades go up.
His groundbreaking research led to further studies which indicated that expressive writing can help enhance immune function, lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, and help alleviate asthma.
Gillie Bolton, a founder of the Council of the UK Association for Medical Humanities, has researched and practiced in reflective and therapeutic writing for 25 years.
Her experience shows that writing is effective because it provides ‘simple, quiet, focused forms of reflection, of paying proper attention to one’s own self.’
In her book Write Yourself she says: ‘Writing can encourage our closed internal doors to slip ajar. Any issue can potentially be shared relatively fearlessly with a piece of paper because it will never get bored, angry, distressed or shocked.
‘Writing can be read and reflected upon, perhaps developed, redrafted, perhaps later shared with a trusted confidential other, or group.’
So why does it work? When we translate an experience into language we essentially make it graspable. Writing forces people to stop and re-evaluate their lives. It also requires them to identify and label their emotions and structure their thoughts.

This in turn can lead them to reach a different understanding about their situation. They talk more, they connect with others differently, they are better able to take advantage of social support, and they find it easier to resolve issues.
Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor and better sleep are just some of the numerous side-benefits.
Their social lives improve too. After people write about troubling events, they devote less ‘thinking time’ to processing them further. This allows them to be better listeners and better friends.
As Jim Pollard, a health writer for the Observer newspaper says: ‘It doesn't just work for the big things. Writing can also soothe away those little irritations that combine to drag down your day.’
Dr Pennebaker does not recommend trying to write about a trauma too soon after it happens and says that if a topic seems too much to handle, don’t tackle it before you’re ready.

Tips for Writing

• Find a time and place where you feel comfortable and won’t be disturbed
• Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
• Write about something personal and important to you
• Write about the hard stuff, but deal only with events or situations you can handle now
• Include writing about your feelings and emotions
• When you are finished, you may like to write a short reflection on how you felt throughout the writing process
• Note down anything that surprised you or any new insights

Author's Bio: 

I studied psychology in the UK before moving to Australia and completing my qualifications to become a registered psychologist. I am a member of the British Psychological Society. I have experience working with a variety of client groups in both the UK and Australia, including children and young people living in residential and foster care, people with disabilities, individuals with a history of complex trauma and those experiencing mental health problems. I have worked as an individual and group therapist, as well as delivering behaviour support services, assessment, clinical support and training. I have always been enthusiastic about writing and have personally enjoyed the personal benefits of writing and journalling for over 20 years. Write As Rain, our recently launched therapy service, combines my two passions - psychology and writing.