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Writing is therapeutic! Any form of writing is okay, and it’s very important to put editing aside, and let your words say just what they need to say. What is initially created is the mortar and bricks of healing because it is your authentic and freed-up voice, which sometimes delivers a gift, a surprise, a glimpse of something important. It might be intimidating to see a blank page. Draw a square in the middle and write into that. For more ideas, read further…
To repeat, writing is therapeutic! In fact, James Pennebaker, PhD., a psychologist and researcher, has conducted studies that show enhancement in immune system functioning and emotional wellbeing when research participants write about difficult or traumatic events in their lives.
You may have questions about what type of writing would be most helpful for you and how to get started. Would it be journaling, writing poetry, free-writing, meditation and writing, morning pages (see The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), etc. Then there is the question of what to do with your writing—keep it to yourself, start a blog, try to get it published, show it to friends, put it in a drawer, rip it up when you are frustrated, or join a group?
Your needs, interests, inclinations, and tastes are pivotal. For instance, you notice one day, that you have been writing poetry on the margins of scrap paper that you find in your pockets when doing the laundry, or someone gives you a classy blank journal book for your birthday. Then there could be alchemy and synchronicity—you see an event or group that “speaks” to you and is even happening on an evening or day you can make it. You venture into the visual attic, basement, or garage of your present or past and discover there is a pen and paper waiting for you there inviting you to write.
My own experience helping people use writing for healing tells me that it works best when there is no initial concern about editing or showing your creation to the world in print. In fact, the first step is to free up the censors, critics, and mind chatter so that the words you need to speak onto the page can get there. I think of therapeutic writing as raw and fresh. Crafting and editing can be an important, but different part of the process. Sometimes creation bubbles up in a perfectly formed finished product, but if not, what is initially created is the mortar and bricks of healing because it is your authentic and freed-up voice, which sometimes delivers a gift, a surprise, a glimpse of something important.
Turning to poetry, poetry gives rhythm to silence, light to darkness. In poetry we find the magic of metaphor, compactness of expression, use of the five senses, and simplicity or complexity of meaning in a few lines. For example, here’s a poetic description of day breaking: As the sun begins with a bowing/ down and a floating up,/ light, a ballerina, pliés and jetés/ with sky in a pas de deux…
Poetry is also healing when read aloud, because of the rhythms, beauty, and connection that can be made with the person who wrote the poem. This connection, the “aha” of meaning, can start a physical and emotional change in the listener. And if you believe that everyone is connected, then someone writing a poem or reading a poem aloud about the recent earthquake in China, hurricanes or cyclones, the war in Iraq, or childhood traumas, can connect us within the human condition, ease our human suffering, give us a concrete way to respond to tragedy.
One way to think about using poetry for healing is to write a response to a poem that moves you, or to write a poem for or about someone you care about. Then, if you feel comfortable, you could share this poem with others or with its inspiration. Any of these steps involve healing: reading another’s poem, letting it move you, writing a poem in response, and sharing it with another. And every time you write even just a few words down on a page, you are engaging in a process that can move you forward in ways both known and unknown.
Phyllis Klein, LCSW and Certified Poetry Therapist, has a private practice in San Francisco and Palo Alto CA working with individual adults and couples. She has led many groups and workshops on writing and healing.