Writing Away Your Worries

I have always been a fan of the written word. Even before I started my professional writing career I wrote. In school yes, but I wrote beyond what was required for classes. I wrote fiction stories and a little poetry but I mainly spent my time filling up diaries and journals. Even though I sometimes recalled day-to-day interactions most of my entries were about my feelings, trying to sort out the racing thoughts in my mind.

I have a box full of these journals that I don’t want to get rid of and yet they are painful (and boring) to look through. I don’t care to get bogged down in the muck and mire of bygone emotions. It seems the journals and diaries served their purpose; they allowed me to share my feelings and thoughts so that I could move on. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was engaged in therapeutic writing.

An in-depth article regarding the effects of this type of writing was recently published in Medical Humanities. The article clarifies the definition of therapeutic writing and sheds light on how this form of therapy helps people with cancer. Although the research is mainly qualitative instead of quantitative, the information presented is a substantial nod to the powerful healing properties of writing.

Therapeutic writing, unlike many forms of writing, is not necessarily written for others. The main purpose is for the writer to create something that is beneficial for them. In this study the participants were in total control of their writing. They choose the form of the writing as well as the content. The benefits to this type of writing are many. It allows the writer to express emotions and thoughts that they couldn’t express in other ways. It allows the writer to “get stuff off their chest.” And it allows the writer to say anything they want, without concerning themselves with audience response.

Past research shows many benefits to therapeutic writing. In the case of the terminally ill, writing was the medium that allowed individuals to address “existential and relational concerns.” It seems that without this opportunity, these important issues weren’t always processed. Once the patients had the opportunity to face these issues they were oftentimes more able to handle their upcoming death better as well as gain a sense of closure to their lives.

It’s no surprise to me that writing can have profound effects on people. Sometimes just the act of getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper can help you to feel more grounded, more clear-headed. This type of writing, therapeutic writing, is like a conversation you have with yourself. And unlike a conversation you have with somebody else, you are free to express yourself totally, completely, until you are empty. And instead of turning to others for wise words or comforting suggestions, your inner wisdom has a chance to voice itself. You are both the burdened and the comforter.

Without realizing it, I’ve engaged in therapeutic writing for years. Not only for the terminally ill, journaling can soothe troubled minds and strong emotions.


G Bolton (2008). “Writing is a way of saying things I can’t say”–therapeutic creative writing: a qualitative study of its value to people with cancer cared for in cancer and palliative healthcare Medical Humanities, 34 (1), 40-46 DOI: 10.1136/jmh.2007.000255

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.
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