Therapeutic Writing and its Benefits
Therapeutic writing can be a powerful and cathartic tool for those of us in recovery from addiction. Here, we explore the different types of therapeutic writing and their various benefits.
Therapeutic writing can take on many different forms; from journaling to jotting down notes, to blogging, or, even writing your own biography or a creative story.
Therapists themselves have been using writing to assist them in their own profession for decades.
Many recovery programmes also advocate writing as a way of honest self-expression, self-appraisal and reflection. Writing is a powerful and helpful tool, when it is used correctly.
Types of writing that offer therapeutic benefits
Being in addiction recovery, it is highly likely that you are no stranger to some form of therapeutic writing.
During active addiction many of us would have been asked to journal our substance use. Perhaps you (like many of us) resented doing this at the time, not appreciating its value, nor being completely honest!
Being in recovery, honesty is paramount to staying clean and healthy.
As recovery gifts us with a clearer, more focused mind, we now have a better chance of appreciating the true value that writing can bring. Writing for therapy not only enhances our emotional wellbeing, but our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing too.
Therapeutic writing to try
There are many different types of writing that can be considered therapeutic. The type of therapeutic writing that benefits you will be a very personal choice.
It is worth experimenting with different types to start. Then, stick with the one that you find to be the most beneficial, enjoyable and sustainable.
Keeping a daily journal of your thoughts and actions is a safe way to express your inner most emotions. You can also use a journal to reflect back and to see how far you have come. Likewise, you may start to see a trend develop that you wish to explore further, or want to change. Many famous historical people have used journaling as a way of recording their life and memoirs, Anne Frank being an exceptional and inspirational example.
Blogging can be whatever you want it to be. It can be humorous, heartfelt, inspirational or another way of recording your journey. You can choose to share your blog with others, helping yourself and knowing that you are also adding value to the lives your readers. If this is something you are interested in, blogging could even become a new hobby.
Writing letters is a more traditional and cathartic way of expressing emotions. We can do this even with loved ones that have passed. Writing letters to lost loved ones gives us the opportunity to say the things we perhaps wish we had. We can make amends, or just simply tell them about our day. By writing to lost loved ones, we feel heard by them and re-connected. This can be a very profound and healing experience.
Poetry can be used as an expressive and healing natural medicine for the soul. Many people like to write poetry as a way of painting a written picture of their inner most thoughts, feelings and experiences.
There is something incredibly satisfying about writing poetry that is personal to you. Some choose to use poetry as way of verbalising their struggles, or as a way of giving hope and inspiration to others. Writing poetry can tap into your creative side, as well as your emotions. It can be used as a way of getting in touch with your inner child, acknowledging them and nurturing them as you write about their experiences.
If you are new to poetry but wish to give it a try, there are many great books to help get you started, Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano's ‘The Daily Poet: Day by day prompts for your writing practice’ being one of them.
Many addiction recovery programmes promote writing as a way of reviewing your day in a constructive way. They also encourage you to share your reviews with someone you trust (a sponsor).
As people in recovery, we need a safe outlet for our thoughts and feelings. Daily reviews offer the benefit of decluttering the mind and unburdening the conscience. They also provide a valuable coping strategy for dealing with emotions. Thus, helping to reduce emotional reactivity.
Creative writing can help to reduce stress as you escape into a world of words and pictures in your mind. You can even use creative writing to express your own experiences, but in an anonymous way. Inventing characters with similar experiences, can be a a wonderful healing way of expressing yourself without feeling overly exposed.
5 helpful tips on writing for therapy
In order for any type of writing to be therapeutic it must be written from the heart and not with the mind. Therapeutic writing needs to be free and unfiltered, with no rules, no expectations and no judgment. The following tips can help you to get started:
1. Set aside time
Setting aside time to write is important. Giving yourself permission for some self care is therapeutic in its own right. Whether it is 5 minutes a day, or 15 minutes three or four times a week, writing needn't be a chore. If it is, it then becomes counterproductive. So ensure that you set aside time that suits you, fitting in with your lifestyle and needs.
2. Find the right place to write
Just as important as choosing the time when you write is finding the right place. Peace and quiet is helpful if you are to go inwards and get the most benefit out of your therapeutic writing. Sometimes this is just not possible in a busy household, so writing with the aid ear plugs or when others are asleep can be useful.
3. Silence the inner critic
Before starting your therapeutic writing it is helpful to agree not to judge yourself. Your writing only has to make sense to you, unless you want to make a profession out of it. Even then, it is suggested that another person edits your writing. Being in recovery from addiction, most of us have an inner critic that has the power to stop us dead in our tracks. Your inner critic has no place or business in therapeutic writing, which should flow freely and restrictions.
Finding the right type of writing, the type that soothes and nourishes your soul is vital if it is to be beneficial. Therefore, if a particular style of writing is causing you to feel frustrated or stressed, simply stop and try another type.
5. Read your writing, or don't
Re reading your writing can provide the perfect opportunity for reflection. Just don't allow your inner critic to rear its ugly head! Reading your writing to someone you trust, such as a sponsor or a counsellor, can help you to feel heard. And, if you wish, receive constructive feed back.
Reading your own writing back to yourself at a later stage can also help you to reflect on your journey and on your progress.
If you wish to use your writing for a quick therapeutic outburst of emotional honesty, you may prefer to burn it or throw it away. It is not what you do with your writing that counts, it is how you feel when your write and more importantly, after you write. Nothing should hinder the process of total emotional honesty, so if you don't wish you writing to be re read, dispose of it. The choice is yours.
The benefits of therapeutic writing
Therapeutic writing offers a whole host of emotional benefits, which may come as no surprise. However, studies into the advantages of therapeutic writing have also found that it offers physical benefits too.
Regular expressive writing has been shown to boost immune function in those suffering from asthma, arthritis and HIV. There has also been evidence to show that writing about emotions can help physical wounds to heal more quickly.
Benefits of therapeutic writing include:
- Promotes self care
- Fosters daily discipline
- Provides a safe emotional outlet
- Inspires creativity
- Helps to unload burdens
- Reduces stress and pent up emotions
- Enables a safe space for vulnerability
- Encourages emotional & spiritual growth
- Clears a cluttered & busy mind
- Reduces emotional reactivity
- Helps you to see things more clearly
- Promotes self-awareness
- Helps you to connect to your heart and heal
The benefits of writing in addiction recovery
Therapeutic writing offers many wonderful benefits to a person recovering from addiction.
Therapeutic writing can be used as a safe, non judgmental space for free expression. Telling your story with the assistance of writing has proven extremely beneficial for those that have suffered a trauma, for example.
When we write, we have the freedom to say what we are truly feeling. We can be completely honest with ourselves and use this as a platform for growth.
Active addiction leads to years of pent up and suppressed emotions, these need to come out, safely.
In recovery it is very beneficial for us to face our truth, our reality and our emotions. Keeping them inside is dangerous. Get them out and write them down. However, do not use this in a negative cycle of repeatedly beating yourself up!
Accept that the truth is beautiful as it frees us, no matter how ugly it may seem.
Counteract any negativity with positivity. If your writing is to act as a therapeutic tool, it needs to be honest but balanced. Therefore, also write down the things that you appreciate, you have learned, you feel connected to and grateful for. In doing so you are finishing your writing on a positive and nurturing note.
A final note on therapeutic writing
Not everyone benefits from therapeutic writing. If you can't be honest in your writing, then it is not going to help you. If you can't write from the heart, then it is not going to help you.
Whilst the vast majority of people benefit from writing down their emotions, for others there can be a more helpful way. It really depends on you as a person.
Some people prefer talking as a form of therapy or using other mediums such as art or music as a safe outlet for expression.
Whatever method you use to express yourself, it should leave you feeling lighter, happier and more free.
Choose your weapon for self expression, whether that be a pen and paper, laptop, voice, physical expression, art or music. You can create your own group within our Recoverlution community, to share tips and express yourself with others if you wish.
The most important benefit of any type of therapy is that it helps you to identify and process your emotions in a safe and healthy way. In doing so, it frees you from the need to suppress them with substances or unhealthy behaviours.
- Writing and physical improvements: Syracuse University Surface (2006). “A Systematic Review of the Methodology of Expressive Writing Intervention Studies: Examining Location.” https://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1643&context=honors_capstone
- Sharing one’s story: Translating emotional experiences into words as a coping tool. In C.R. Snyder (Ed.), Coping: The psychology of what works (pp.70-89). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Expressive Writing as a Therapeutic Process for Drug Dependent Women - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942795/
- Writing to heal. By helping people manage and learn from negative experiences, writing strengthens their immune systems as well as their minds.https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing