Writing to heal Writing to heal

Writing to heal

Armony in health 1 August, 2017 Isabel Vallejo


Writing therapy is an alternative way to letting your emotions out, allowing you to understand your options and express what you cannot say out loud.

Medical Advisor Omaira Giraldo Soto
Clinical psychologist, business coach and biocentric educator

For Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, it does not help to just think of things in his head, he can only organize his thoughts when he writes. “After using my hands to write … I am finally able to organize and understand what is in my head, which isn’t much else than what is in other people’s heads,” he writes in his new book What I Talk About When I Talk About Writing.

Taking a pencil and beginning to write sentences or typing as your ideas and reflections flow, is an act that connects the mind, body and emotions. According to Omaira Giraldo Soto, clinical psychologist and coach, “Through my body, I’m giving shape to an idea I have: my body becomes engaged, I place it in a specific position to write and I must connect my entire body so that I can do that.” Giraldo adds that when we write, we are present and focus our attention; it is a time to reflect in order to achieve understanding. See also Writing by hand, a healthy practice

A therapy for all

Writing is a liberating experience, it is not a practice that is exclusive to journalists, professional writers, philosophers, humanists or language experts. It is a practice founded on words, which belong to all of us. More and more people are reaching out to therapists, attending writing courses or clubs, or are keeping a diary and take a few minutes during the day to write out their feelings and the them flow.

This concept is not new to therapy. According to Giraldo, it has been used for many years for different strategies such as writing a letter to someone that you have not been able to express an uncomfortable feeling to (even if it is not delivered to that person), or repeating statements and phrases through neuro-linguistic programming. It has now become a trend, as people are beginning to give its benefits a try.

According to the concepts of Alexánder Rodríguez Bustamante, academic coordinator of the Family Therapy program at Luis Amigó Catholic University, something that appears as basic as writing the plans and goals you want to achieve can be very powerful. It benefits, “…our inner selves because there is something we want to accomplish…This depends on each of us. There are no magical formulas, but there are words that strengthen our desire to achieve things in life in a positive way, without focusing on one’s own failures or errors, or those of others.”

For better or for worse

Writing as a form of therapy can be used in two ways: to release harmful or suppressed emotions and to turn your dreams into reality. When there is something painful that you can’t seem to identify, as Omaira Giraldo Soto explains, writing about it helps let it out and understand where they’re coming from. When we see them in writing, we have a better understanding of our ideas that do not allow us to let our suffering go. “Developing a new understanding of this idea, and writing it down, will help modify your interpretation of it. You will read it and realize certain things about what you think or say. It gives you an opportunity to make an interesting reflection,” she explains.

Either way writing is used, the recommendation is to receive guidance from a therapist to understand and address the emotions that will begin to arise during the process, especially in more complex cases that require interpreting the meaning of these feelings and memories in order to obtain positive benefits from the practice.

The article Writing to Heal, published by the American Psychological Association, quotes psychologist James W. Pennebaker. A professor at the University of Texas and a leading researcher on the uses of language on mental and physical health, Pennebaker explains that writing goes hand in hand with therapy because people that repeatedly talk about their situation in the same way, do not improve, “There has to be growth or a change in the way that they see their experiences.”

He has found, for example, that the more terms referring to cause and effect are used such as “because,” “realize,” and “understand,” the greater the benefit.

Peace and balance

As Alexánder Rodríguez Bustamante affirms, when we lose someone, for example, “…The pain is undoubtedly there and it will take time to be able to find that peace and balance. By jotting down a few words on a piece of paper, we let out what we feel, and how we are dealing and processing it. And of course, ‘things will come up.’ There is no specific formula, each individual must address their own internal issues. This is why writing requires making it a habit, being creative, not using labels, keeping new and old desires in perspective, creating your own outlook on life and changing from a defeatist paradigm to one that is proactive.”

When people who cannot express themselves easily write, they are able let out what they feel, Giraldo explains. She adds that writing helps those who cannot carry on complex conversations easily and “end up pausing all the time,” because it allows them to plan what they are going to say so that when they say it out loud, they have more confidence.

She uses writing in her coaching sessions, “It has been a very useful tool, but I understand that it is not for everyone.”

The first step is to give it a try. Just start writing, do exercises to make it a habit, become dedicated to it and seek out the support of experts if you want to see greater results. Take note of the words of those psychologists that use writing with their patients and who ascribe to the quote in the American Psychological Association article, “After all, writing’s power to heal lies not in pen and paper, but in the mind of the writer.”

The advantage of writing therapy is that people do not have to answer to norms or rules. They can express themselves freely in order to begin to develop their own internal processes.