The act of writing has long been a valuable tool for humans to communicate with one another as well as process what we are not always able to express to the rest of the world. A writer Brianna Woodward shared a post she wrote about those who have touched her twenty-one years of life but are no longer part of it. She expressed the post as being:
Why I want to thank everyone who has ever been a part of my life, for good or for bad.
There are many lessons that we learn throughout our lives but if we do not take the time to actively process them or ponder what we have learned then we are not getting 100% value of experiences. In Brianna Woodward’s writing we see an example of how you are able to write and process things in your life at any time. By taking this time you are able to learn new lessons and help develop new meaning around your experiences.
While working at Blackwater Outdoor Experiences I have learned a great deal more about what is known as scriptotherapy or therapeutic writing. At the 2016 ACA-CCPA Conference & Expo Dr. Samuel Gladding presented a session on the benefits of therapeutic writing as well as some helpful ways to go about writing therapeutically. Of the evidence that he presented he shared that a study by James Pennebaker that showed by intentionally writing or 20 minutes a day can relive stress and improve other aspects of your life. Gladding specifically highlighted that those who received these benefits wrote for a minimum of four days a week for a month. Can you sacrifice 80 minutes a week to write?
Now if you are thinking “I’m not one for writing in a journal or diary” that is perfectly fine and fair. Therapeutic writing can be done in multiple varieties just as with the writing of everyday life. For example, during Blackwater Outdoor Experiences therapeutic wilderness expeditions we dedicate at least 20 minutes to replying to either sentence stems or writing prompts. As I work with individuals and learn more about therapeutic writing through sessions such as the one presented by Dr. Gladding I perceive the following as a wonderful ladder into the realm of therapeutic writing:
- Start with Word Clusters or Mind Maps. This exercise focuses around the idea of putting an idea in the center of the page. After writing this idea down you proceed to write ideas that you connect to that idea. For example: In this picture the individual started with the idea of a pirate. After thinking about the pirate they realized they thought a pirate was fearless, greedy,scruffy, scary, massive, and tough. In this type of exercise we could start with pirate go to greedy and then go to scrooge and so on allowing the connections to occur as we think about them.
- Sentence stems (i.e. – “Today I felt…”) are a great start in order to get in the habit of writing what you would like to express in response to your experiences. Therapistaid.com has a great starting worksheet that gives prime examples of some helpful sentence stems you can use to help yourself start processing and writing.
- Five Minute Writing Sprint – set a timer for five minutes and start writing. You can add the difficulty by setting the rule that you must keep the writing utensil in contact with the paper for the entire five minutes.
- Six Word Stories – Stories told in six words that can then be processed and explored through journaling or through a therapy session.
- Journaling – writing through the daily events in a journal can be helpful to process every day events but journaling can also take on the form of logging specific activities such things to grateful for, etc.
- Memory Book – creation of a book with hints, tidbits, and advice that you would want to give to another group or generation. These books can take on a scrapbook type of format.
With all of these different writing methods they mainly become therapeutic when they are debriefed and processed. This can either be as part of an everyday life wellness routine or as part of your therapeutic work with a therapist (i.e.- counselor, social worker, psychologist, etc.).