Verbal disclosure of self has long been considered beneficial and widely used in counselling and other therapies. Self-inhibition of negative emotions usually leads to continuous autonomic arousal resulting in poorer health. Writing therapy, is delineated in the literature as ‘expressive (emotional) disclosure’, ’written disclosure therapy’ or ‘expressive writing’ may have the potential to heal mentally and physically.
What to expect?
A theory of emotional catharsis states that the mere act of disclosure, that is essentially ‘getting it off your chest’ is a powerful therapeutic agent by itself. Writing sometimes facilitate cognitive processing of traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive, integrated representations about the writers, the writers world, and others. The development of a coherent narrative over time results in ongoing processing and finding meaning in the traumatic experience, this is also possible in Writing Therapy .
How Does it work?
There are evidence to suggest that writing may work best when one do not want it to. The content of the writing may account for some of the variation in the results of the therapy. For practical purposes, it is important to take into consideration the optimal conditions for administering writing. It would seem that disclosure in a private setting with minimal distraction, and writing about more recent events and previously undisclosed topics helps in therapeutic process. This could gradually be combined with higher ‘doses’ of writing; at least three sessions with each session lasting at for 15 minutes. Writing is a relatively safe intervention because hardly any studies have shown writing to be detrimental to health or elevate any symptoms. Writing is often associated with an immediate increase in short-term distress and negative affect, which is not detrimental to participants in the longer term. Although it may be unsuitable for patients who are chronically depressed, highly disturbed, or psychotic, or those with PTSD. Similarly, the initial psychological arousal resulting from writing may be too much to handle for some people, especially those who are unsupported. However, patients can be advised to stop writing at any point in case severe distress is seen and contact a healthcare professional if necessary. Understandably, the inherent nature of writing requires participants to be able to both read and write, thereby the therapy cannot be administered on patients who are illiterate or children not yet able to express themselves through writing.
When it is used?
Recently this therapeutic intervention is being used for a variety of conditions where it is difficult to make the client reveal their feelings in general practice like depression, PTSD etc. Also, writing can be used as a homework task for therapies like CBT and behaviour modification. Since writing therapy may help in a variety of problems, this therapy can be very widely employed.
Role of writing therapist:
These interventions can take place in the form of classes where clients write on specific themes chosen by their therapist or counsellor. Assignments sometimes includes writing unsent letters to selected individuals, alive or dead, followed by imagined replies from the recipient, or a dialogue between the client and a designated person. The therapist design the session depending upon the psychological situation of the client. Writing therapy is a potentially cheap and easily accessible option that requires minimal input from healthcare professionals.
Jones CJ, Theadom A, Smith H, et al. Writing about emotional experiences to improve lung function and quality of life in patients with asthma: a 3-month follow up of a randomised controlled trial. Thorax 2008; 63: A18–A21