Writing thoughts and feelings about trauma or crises for as little as 15 minutes a day for as few as four or five days has been shown to be correlated with:
- Far fewer visits to the student health center for college students
- An increase in T-cells (immune system functioning)
- Increasing the likelihood and rapidity of getting a new job after being laid off
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved grades
- Improved mental and physical health of grade-school students, people in nursing homes, arthritis patients, medical students, rape victims, new mothers, and prisoners
How to do the writing ritual:
- Write honestly and openly about your deepest feelings and thoughts about the situation you are in or went through. Make sure you keep these writings private or you may find yourself unconsciously censoring what you write and diluting the effects of the writing. Consider destroying what you wrote after it is complete, again for the same reason. Perhaps making a ritual of the burning or destroying of the writing. (See the next section of this chapter for some hints about doing that kind of ritual.)
- Write for a relatively short time, say 15 minutes. This writing is often draining or emotionally difficult. Limiting the time makes it both a bit more tolerable and more likely that you will do it.
- Write for only four or five days. This time limit seemed to work very well in the experiments that were done. They are not carved in granite, however, and if you find you need more time, you can take it. One of the points of this limit of a few days is again to contain the experience so it doesn’t take over your life.
- Try to find both a private and unique place to write, somewhere you can both be uninterrupted and someplace that won’t be associated with other things or that have the usual smells, sights and sounds of places you already know well.
- Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or getting it right. Just write.
- During the writing days, try to use the same time each day or evening to write. It’s not crucial, but it can sometime give your unconscious mind some structure and preparation time if it knows exactly when the writing will take place. This can also help contain the emotions and intrusive thinking that may occur and interfere with your day or evening.
- Writing seems to be the most powerful, but if for some reason, that won’t work for you, you could try ‘writing’ by speaking into a tape recorder or a video camera.
- Ignore these guidelines if you discover something else works better for you. Everyone is unique.
Sources: Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, James Pennebaker, NY: Guilford, 1990.
The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being, eds. Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua M. Smyth, APA: Washington, DC, 2002.
Bill O’Hanlon, M.S., Possibilities, 551 Cordova Rd., #715 Santa Fe, NM 87505
800.381.2374, Fax# 505.983.2761, PossiBill@aol.com, www.brieftherapy.com