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The Healing Power of Writing

How would you like a way to improve your wellbeing any time, any place? A form of therapy where you are in charge and there are no limits? A therapy where you can swear, hesitate, ramble, create and be at your most vulnerable without caring what anyone thinks? A therapy where you can set goals and tear them down and it doesn’t matter? A therapy that can be fun, funny, dark, sad but is ultimately healing?

The therapy is writing. Writing for wellbeing not only helps you heal; it helps you know yourself. It helps you make sense of who you are in relation to what happens to you. This awareness means that you can change things if you want to (or not). You can share it or keep it to yourself. You can even publish it if you want. You can look back on it to remind yourself of how far you have come or you can burn the bitter memories of the past. Writing for wellbeing offers all these things as well as giving an opportunity to be creative and adventurous. You can do a specific writing exercise for ten minutes or write profusely about anything and everything for hours. It really is up to you.

The activist, visionary, poet and author Maya Angelou arguably helped herself after a trauma which rendered her mute, using the power of language. She immersed herself in poetry and other written words until she was able to speak again and eventually put her own pain down on paper. The writer Celeste Bauby used writing as a way to express himself when suffering from ‘locked in’ syndrome (he dictated laboriously via 200,000 blinks of his left eye). I think that most novelists, poets or reflective writers would say there is an element of therapy in their writing.

There is now growing evidence to suggest the considerable health benefits to writing therapy. Researchers are beginning to understand how and why writing may benefit the immune system. There is emerging agreement belief that the key to writing's effectiveness is in the way people use it to interpret their experiences, right down to the words they choose. Venting emotions alone - whether through writing or talking - is not enough to relieve stress, and thereby improve health. To tap writing's healing power, people must use it to better understand and learn from their emotions. The curative mechanism appears to be relief of the stress that exacerbates disease, researchers believe. A recent study has found that out of 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients 70 patients in showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluations compared with 37 of the control patients. A notion arising from Gestalt therapy is that of ‘Unfinished Business’ damaging our emotional and physical wellbeing. Gaining closure by writing an unsent letter or understanding your feelings through a poem or piece of writing can greatly help your emotional, mental and physical state. Writing and language has been thought to have therapeutic properties for thousands of years. According to multiple sources, the earliest known use of language for medicinal purposes was by the shamans and witch doctors (of primitive civilisations), who chanted poetry for the well-being of the tribe or the individual. In the fourth millennium BCE, Ancient Egyptians are said to have sought healthful benefits through the ingestion of papyrus inscribed with meaningful words and dissolved in solutions. At this time, it was believed that words had the potential to heal through a combination of medicinal and magical powers. Belief in the power of words was so strong that the phrase ‘The Healing Place of the Soul’ was inscribed over the library in Alexandria, Egypt.

The healing power of writing is difficult to deny. But sometimes rather than dig deep it’s fantastic just to escape. After a taxing day at work I’m off to write about a boat trip down the Nile or a beach party in Bali.


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