If you have come to the website thinking about signing up for one of the ‘Your Brain on Paper’ workshops or programmes, you may like to know a little more about the kind of writing we do in the workshops.
I first became interested in this kind of writing after my children, Ileana and Sarah died while our family was working overseas. A book by Louise de Salvo, Writing As A Way of Healing, was suggested to me by a colleague who is an academic and writer. Writing can save your life! Now, I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but many years after I first began to use this kind of writing to help me make some sense of of the horrible things that had happened in our lives, the evidence is mounting that writing has, and continues to, help people heal. And, in my very wide reading, and interactions with those who have used this kind of writing, I frequently hear the words ‘writing saved my life.’
Writing has helped me deal with my own health challenges, including anxiety and depression, and a diagnosis of invasive skin cancer. After reading Louise de Salvo’s book I searched for more information and more guidance in how to use expressive writing effectively. I read Opening Up: The healing power of expressing emotions by James Pennebaker and liked what I read. It made sense – especially for one who had such difficulty in expressing emotions in any way. Then I found Writing to Heal, a guided journal by Pennebaker. I liked that this journal was grounded in scientific research, that this way of writing had been demonstrated to be helpful. I had been a teacher and student of academic writing, but that was not helpful to me personally and emotionally, so I hoped that the guided writing in Writing to Heal might be something that would help me write my way out of the grief and subsequent depression that seemed impossible to shift.
When the book arrived I started reading immediately and found within just a few pages why the writing I had been doing was not helping. I was writing my story, but writing the same one over and over, and I was focusing on only negatives; it never went anywhere – a bit like Groundhog Day, if you have seen that movie. Writing to Heal was the beginning for me to reframe the narrative that I had in my head, to rewrite my story in a way I would not have considered, I don’t think, if I had not come across this book.
Pennebaker’s book guided me in rewriting or working through, not only the more recent traumatic events in my life, but also some of the childhood and adolescent troubling events and subsequent painful memories. I was able to lay to rest or bring closure to these and move beyond that memory induced emotional turmoil that I hadn’t even realized was always close to the surface. It also helped me understand why I struggled so much with my faith and never felt ‘enough’ in any of my relationships, including that important spiritual relationship with God.
Once I began to use Writing to Heal I wanted to open up this wonderful way of healing to others, and so I began to offer workshops. I have conducted the workshops overseas as well as in Australia. Then, for a while, I was busy with other pursuits and limited the use of Expressive Writing to my individual clients. But, it’s time now to begin to work with groups again.
Expressive Writing is not for everyone, just as other therapies are not for everyone. It is worth trying though. Below are some of the benefits that have been found when we use Expressive Writing:
As mentioned this is not so for everyone, but the evidence is strong for the benefits of expressive writing if you are willing to commit to it and give it a go. You don’t have to be going through, or have experienced a major trauma; you can use this writing effectively to help you work through any emotional upheaval. One writing course I offer looks at transition and change – and we all constantly find ourselves in situations where some sort of change is happening, even a minor one. I hope this has helped you to make a decision about whether to come along to a short workshop or enroll in one of the longer programmes. If you have any questions at all please contact me.