The simple act of writing one's own thoughts on paper has long been known to be a therapeutic activity. There are several reasons for this:
A) It's a focused act that we control. It allows us to feel like we are doing something, however small.
B) It allows one to work through their emotions. The process of writing can help you come to grips with what you are feeling and better understand the forces behind complex emotions. In other words, it helps us to discover ourselves on a deeper level.
C) Writing can provide a sense of closure. Putting our thoughts to paper gives them significance that allows you to move on.
D) Writing is often an activity that leads us to naturally adopt different perspectives. It is conducive towards putting yourself in another person's shoes or viewing a situation creatively from different perspectives. In both reading and writing, there is a strong tendency to place ourselves within the mindset of each character. Viewed through the proper lens, this can promote empathy and understanding.
E) For parents and other caregivers, it can be a valuable tool. Using therapeutic writing exercises with children opens up a window into what the child is feeling. This in turn allows you to better address a child's needs and offer comfort in the right ways.
F) Writing is an endeavor that lends itself particularly well to the recovery process, since it can be used to reinforce just about every single concept normally promoted through psychotherapy. This versatility makes creative writing exercises especially helpful in therapy for children, since they can be assigned by teachers and other caregivers to help kids make sense of difficult events.
The mental health benefits of writing
Research has shown that simply writing about a trauma, be it the death of a loved one or a physical assault, can bring about some surprising improvements in both mental and physical health. (Pennebaker, 1997) People experience the greatest benefit from these exercises when their writing contains an explanation of the trauma. (Pennebaker, Mayne & Francis, 1997)
Furthermore, recalling and then writing about a past event through a particular perspective can take the edge off traumatic memories, because when we recall a memory and then engage it in a more beneficial way, we consolidate it again in a less destructive manner.
Putting words on paper tends to be better than just thinking a thought. (Gaschler, 2007) Some evidence has suggested that writing out one's thoughts can be as beneficial as talking with friends or seeing a therapist, since it helps one get in touch with their innermost feelings. (Gannon, 2010)
This chapter will outline the various ways you can use writing to heal from difficult experiences.