anyone who uses writing for therapeutic purposes should read louise de salvo’s writing as a way of healing. quite a bit of what she writes is based on james w. pennebaker’s research on writing and health (do go to his web site, he has all kinds of neat little tests on it).
one of the main ideas behind de salvo’s and pennebaker’s work is that in order for writing to be therapeutic, it needs to both describe events and the feelings connected with them. de salvo offers a helpful list of do’s and don’ts, which i’ve reproduced here, with only a few changes:
- write twenty minutes a day over a period of four days. do this periodically. this way you won’t feel overwhelmed.
- write in a private, safe, comfortable environment.
- write about issues you’re currently living with, something you’re thinking or dreaming about constantly, a trauma you’ve never disclosed or discussed or resolved.
- write about joys and pleasures, too.
- write about what happened. write, too, about feelings about what happened. what do you feel? why do you feel this way?
- link events with feelings.
- try to write in a detailed, vivid, emotionally compelling way. don’t worry about correctness, about grammar or punctuation.
- beneficial effects will occur even if no one reads your writing. if you choose to keep your writing and not discard it, make sure to safeguard it.
- expect, initially, that in writing in this way you will have complex and perhaps difficult feelings. make sure you get support if you need to.
- don’t use writing as a substitute for taking action.
- don’t become overly intellectual.
- don’t use writing as a way of complaining (isabella’s comment: although there can be usefulness in that, too, if you do it in a structured way – stay tuned for a follow-up post on that).
- don’t use your writing to discover how and why you feel as you do.
- don’t use your writing to become overly self-absorbed. overanalyzing everything is counterproductive.
- don’t use writing as a substitute for therapy or medical care.
if journaling is something that you’d like to do but haven’t been able to start or keep up, drop me a line, and we can arrange for a free 30-minute talk, face-to-face, online or via telephone.
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