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Writing Is Good Medicine - Plus, It's Free!

The therapeutic value of writing

I want to thank David Tabatsky for showing us how to integrate the art of writing with the science of healing. David's work inspired this piece. I hope he helps lift up many souls in the years to come.

Life has its ups and downs, and often we are faced with adversity in the form of loss, breakups, sadness, stress, etc. Talking to friends, family, or loved ones can be helpful, but not always:

  • How many times can your repeat the details of your hardship?  It can be depleting.
  • When times are tough, you sometimes want to remain silent. Privacy counts as well.
  • Some friends try to offer advice or help that is really about their anxieties, and it’s not useful.
  • And, sometimes, talk makes things worse and not better.  Timing is everything, and while talk can heal, it can also open up scabs that—for now—are better left alone.

Writing in Therapy:

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When patients or friends feel troubled I sometimes suggest that they write down what they’re feeling.

Writing can be therapeutic; as Psychology Today bloggers, Randi Kreger and Rochelle Melander point out, “Many psychological and medical studies have shown that writing about difficulties and dreams helps people experience increased happiness, health, and productivity.” 

Here are six ways that writing can be good for the soul:

  • Writing is a good way to record your memoriesThere’s a reason why people keep diaries and journals. It’s nice to look back at old things you’ve written, and reflect on how much has changed or how much you’ve grown. Each of us has a personal history, and it makes sense to take our individual journey seriously.
  • You are more honest with yourself when you write.  Even when you talk to friends or family about problems, you often leave out honest feelings and thoughts that you have because you’re afraid of being judged or pitied. Sometimes, if you just write your thoughts on paper, you’ll find that it’s easier to confront your feelings when you're the only one who has to see them. You discover anger or appreciation that you didn't realize was there. Or, you write a poem that is healing. Who would have known?
  • Consider moving from being a character in your life journey to the role of author. Once you express yourself on paper (or the cyber equivalent), and figure out how you really feel, you may decide to that something needs to be done. This can open the door to taking action that may make a difference. Perhaps you need to confront someone, or reach out in some way, or maybe, you're avoiding an important responsibility to yourself or others. Writing grounds you, and sometimes, action will follow. It's good to feel like an author of your story, rather than just an actor in it.
  • It might help you sleep better. If you have a lot of trouble sleeping, it might be helpful to take out a notebook or turn on your computer and just write a little bit. For some, this is the wrong thing to do. But, for the right person, writing actually calms down the over thinking commonly found just before sleep.
  • Writing is a nice break from the rest of the world. In our nonstop world, we’re surrounded by technology and social media, whether we’re listening to music or posting a status update or texting a friend. And, its more intense when you're suffering from a loss or worry. Take a break! It’s refreshing to open up a notebook and physically write things down. It provides a  respite from a fast-paced and stressful world. Even turning on your computer and just writing your thoughts down on a Word document is a private activity, separate from the expansive network of the Internet.
  • Illnesses can be helped through writing. People with cancer and other illnesses may benefit from writing about their experience. David Tabatsky, in his Write for Life work, goes around the country visiting cancer centers with his writing workshops. There is research to suggest that it helps. From a psychological perspective, writing allows the patient to assert creativity in the face of his or her fears. It’s bringing the best of who we are into the world as a form of medicine. There may be a poem in you, or a story that grounds your experience. Human beings benefit from turning passive into active, and for some, writing may do the trick.

Writing might not be for everybody, but I encourage you to at least try it out. If it works for you, it can become a beneficial tool that helps you learn about yourself as well as improve your mental health and happiness. So what are you waiting for? Go off and write away!         

 

I want to thank Lily Kong, an intern from Wesleyan University, for her contribution to this piece.

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Mark Banschick, M.D., is a psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce book series.

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