The Writing Cure
Writing as a psychological resource.
Posted April 28, 2020
The Writing Cure is the title of a book written by scientists who study the healing powers of expressive writing – the kind of writing you would use a private journal for, where you describe your experiences and express your emotions.
Of all mental health interventions, keeping a journal is one of my favorites. Not only because I personally love to write, but also because as simple as it may sound (sit down and write about your day), it combines several very powerful therapeutic elements. Let’s take a look at what those are.
Because we have to put things into words, writing promotes better awareness of our emotions. When we are searching for the right words to describe what’s on our mind, we are forced to explore the quality of our experiences and if we keep doing this day after day, we can begin to see patterns in our reactions and thoughts. This is all so useful because it gives us a better understanding of ourselves, which is one of the essential ingredients of well-being and personal growth.
When we write about our emotions, we thereby express them and this in itself can have a therapeutic effect. Unexpressed or even suppressed emotions are toxic. Suppressing emotions prolongs recovery from traumatic events and negatively affects our physical health (Gross & Levenson, 1997). However, some of the emotions we walk around with may feel so private that we can’t bring ourselves to share them with anyone. Writing in a private journal can then be the needed outlet.
When we write about our experiences and reactions, it also gives us a chance to reflect deeper upon what happened and sometimes see the events in a different light, not the way we saw them initially. Things become less black and white and, once it is all in front of us, we can also question some of that automatic negative self-talk (“Perhaps, this was not my fault after all. Perhaps, it was no one’s fault”).
Then there is the creativity and the satisfaction with your own artistic expression. The satisfaction that comes with being able to capture something as volatile and transient as emotions, convert it into words, arrange it into paragraphs, frame it in a text. It doesn’t happen every time you write, but when it does, it’s like catching a butterfly with your bare hands. (And if you are skillful enough, the butterfly will still be alive.)
In the privacy of your own journal, you can do whatever you want – no one is reading it unless you choose to let them. You can say whatever you want however you want it. You find new ways of talking that you’ve never tried before. You find another voice. First, it may sound strange and unfamiliar, kind of like hearing yourself on tape. But then this voice becomes stronger and more confident until you come to realize that what you are hearing is in fact the voice of your authentic self.
When you go back and re-read what you wrote a while ago, it helps you see how rich your life experiences actually are. You might discover that there is much more color and variety to your life than you thought. You can see that you are on the move, nothing is standing still. You can study the quality of the road you are on and the speed at which you are moving. Maybe yours is a narrow and winding mountain road. Maybe it's a straight highway. Writing about it is like getting out of the car to breathe in some fresh air, stretch, and pluck the dusty flowers that grow along the roadside.
You might wonder, "What should I write about?" Rest assured, once you sit down and start to write whatever comes to mind, the story will emerge.
Gross, J. J., & Levenson, R. W. (1997). Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(1), 95–103. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.106.1.95
Lepore, S. J., & Smyth, J. M. (2002). The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.