April 20, 2024

Writing Therapy Might Be the Key to Better Mental Health in 2023

“Writing therapy is more targeted, exploring elements of our lives that have had greater effects on us,” says Plummer. Think less venting about a confrontation with your boss, and more doing introspective work around a major traumatic incident. “There are different intentions that go into the work,” she explains.

It’s important for writing therapy to be done with the support of a therapist (as opposed to journaling, which is a great solo reflective tool). “We want to make sure that a person doesn’t spiral,” says Plummer. “When you open an emotional wound, someone needs to be there as a healer. ”

She likens the process to surgery: You open the wound, clean it out with the help of a trained professional, and then close it back up again. “That’s why writing therapy is different from journaling—we can’t let you go home with this open wound,” she says.

What are the health benefits of writing therapy?

“Writing can help us stop ruminating about a distressing event or situation by giving us a medium to let it all out,” says Haigh. “Leaving things on the page can provide that extra closure that we need to stop repetitive thinking cycles. ”

Research shows that writing can actually help rewire your brain. “Studies show that writing may reduce activity in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that is involved in processing emotions and memories associated with fear,” says Haigh.

Put another way, writing helps your brain move an experience from raw feeling into rational thought. “When we experience something, we experience it in the back part of our brain through the sensory limbic system,” says Haigh. “Then we move it forward to the amygdala, which is where a lot of our emotions are. ” Traumatic experiences linger here, generating strong emotional responses when triggered. “Writing therapy moves that experience to the frontal cortex, which is where our executive thinking, functioning, and processing is. ”

Writing about an emotional experience or stressful event through journal therapy can help you form a more cohesive narrative. “By writing our stories, we can start to define the meaning behind them,” Haigh says. “This is a very important and empowering part of healing, especially when we are talking about traumatic experiences. ”

Is writing therapy right for you?

“We all process information differently, and some process more internally than externally,” says Hendrix. For some, verbally processing a traumatic event with someone they trust comes naturally. But “not everyone can use clear words to express themselves in a conversation on the spot,” she says. And that’s perfectly okay.

If you’re more of an internal processor—you’d prefer journaling, exercising, or meditating to work through emotions—writing therapy can be especially helpful to work through negative experiences.  It’s best to talk with your therapist about the potential benefits of therapeutic writing and whether or not it might work for you.

How to do writing therapy

Step one: Engage a therapist. “Writing can bring up overwhelming emotions and physical sensations at times, and it’s a good idea to have a trained professional who can help you work through whatever comes up,” Haigh says. “There is also something so powerful about having a trusted person be a witness to your story and to love you and support you through it no matter what. This can help reduce the shame that clients feel about traumatic experiences. ”

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