Writing therapy exists as a kind of expressive therapy. What is expressive therapy? Great question! This kind of therapy focuses on providing ways for a client to express his or her feelings freely in a safe environment. Expressive therapy includes a wide variety of creative therapies to assist individuals in focusing on the process instead of a final product. This therapy includes art therapy, dance therapy and music therapy as well as writing therapy. These forms of therapy aim to help individuals by allowing them to express their feelings with words on paper (or electronically by computer). Being able to express oneself through writing can be extremely therapeutic and aid in the healing process.
Writing can exist as a key component to therapy. According to the American Psychological Association, writing is an excellent tool in the healing process for many who seek therapy. Several studies, including one conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, conclude that writing can boost immune function.
Therapists use many kinds of writing therapy today. Handwriting therapy helps individuals strengthen the mind-kinesthetic connection while internet writing therapy uses modern technology to enhance the therapy process. Writing helps not only to cure yourself but also to boost your memory. Nathan Field is an important champion of writing therapy; specifically, he advocates for a specific writing therapy called internet writing therapy. His paper entitled “The Therapeutic Action of Writing in Self-Disclosure and Self-Expression” focused on how individuals can use the internet to strengthen the therapist-client relationship. In this approach to writing, e-mail is the primary avenue of contact between the client and the therapist. The anonymity of email encourages honesty from the client in addressing topics assigned by the therapist. The client and therapist agree on a specific timeframe to answer and then respond to each other. Field argues that writing through email can remove inhibitions a client may feel when addressing issues face to face. Confronting issues through email encourages freedom and clients can reflect and take time to communicate exactly what they are thinking. Clients enjoy as much time as they need to explore their thoughts instead of being limited to an hour-long (or less) timeframe. Internet writing therapy has yielded many positive experiences for the client-therapist relationship.
Writing Therapy Exercises
There are many types of writing therapy exercises; in fact, there are as many types of writing therapy exercises as there are writing therapists! These exercises can be short or long, and focus on fiction or non-fiction. They can rhyme or not. Here are ten common writing therapy exercises:
Letter to Yourself
This letter can be a letter expressing what’s troubling you, or what you love most about yourself. It may include goals or dreams. It may also include problems or issues you feel you need to address but haven’t yet vocalized.
Letter to Someone Else
This letter may express issues arising between you and another individual that have not yet been vocalized. While the intent of the letter is never to be sent, the act of writing the letter can help explore and organize one’s thoughts about another person — this type of writing can be very cathartic.
This kind of writing is exactly what it sounds like — it has no rules! It can be in sentences, phrases, or just be a list of words. The therapist may give you a word such as love or forgiveness or hurt or future and the client has the freedom to write whatever comes to mind: personal experiences, movies, anything and everything that comes into the client’s mind regarding the assigned word or phrase.
This exercise encourages the client to create a poem on a particular topic. The poem can rhyme or be unrhymed, be short or long, really anything that the client feels like writing on the topic to express himself or herself.
Thought trees are rather like brainstorming where the topic being addressed is the “trunk” and everything related to the topic becomes the branches. This form of brainstorming can also be referred to as a mind map. The point of this exercise is to explore how issues may be connected.
This type of writing involves good old pen and paper. The writing therapist will assign prompts that the client explores in a private journal. Many therapists will not ask to see the journal; the writing process is just for the client. Other therapists will simply request that the client commits to writing daily or weekly in a journal and share during sessions if the client would like to.
Some writing therapies will require blogging instead of journaling. Blogging is simply journaling online. While a blog can be public, it needn’t be — blogging can be exclusively for oneself.
Affirmations are short, positive phrases that one can write daily to remind oneself of why they are valued, loved, successful, or worthy. While affirmations are often spoken in a mirror, the physical act of writing them down can ingrain them in the brain more readily.
Creative lists can help you organize information. List topics may include “10 Things You’re Thankful For”, “10 Places You’d Like to Visit and Why”, “10 Life Goals”. Such lists can help you organize your day and fight procrastination.
Creating or recreating a dialogue can help the client explore what he or she would like to say or recreate a conversation how he or she had wished it would have gone. This kind of writing therapy allows an individual to explore addressing a situation with an individual with whom a conflict exists through a safe platform.
Like many other types of expressive writing, writing therapy should take place in a safe space. Be courageous and honest when writing. Write only for yourself. Confront feelings and emotions and issues you’d like to address through the therapy. Spelling, grammar, and writing conventions need not apply — the focus of the writing should focus on the idea. Writing therapy is judgment free. While some writing may be used in therapy sessions, much of what the client writes is for the client only with the purpose of identifying and working through any issues.