7 Ways Writing Can Be Therapeutic for You

Today’s guest post is by Diana Stevan.

Writing can be therapeutic when strong emotions trouble our mind. We can’t sleep, we can’t think straight, and we can’t get on with the joys of life.

I was a therapist for twenty-five years, guiding individuals, couples, and families and helping them deal with the pain that brought them into my office.

I’ve seen my share of personal problems: mental illness, addictions, post-traumatic stress, domestic and sexual abuse, family and marital breakdown. I know that being normal means carrying both good and ugly feelings inside.

We humans have a lot to contend with during our life’s journey. Each one is unique. And sometimes there’s nowhere to turn and no one to hear our story. And that’s where writing comes in.

Here are some ways writing can be therapeutic:

1. Straight Thinking

When you’ve been assaulted by someone’s words or deeds, writing down your feelings is a form of stepping back. Getting some distance. Some emotional distance.

By writing down your overwhelming feelings—those hurtful thoughts, the fear, the anger, the words that can get you into further trouble if spoken out loud, you can think more clearly about the steps you need to take.

Writing down feelings and experiences can do much to alleviate the pain. Not that writing is a substitute for therapy but it’s one way of getting the “garbage” out. It’s not unlike keeping a diary or a journal.

2. Sleeping Better

Going to sleep with troubles on your mind is certain to give you a restless night. Keeping a notepad by your bed gives you the opportunity to write down whatever is troubling you—before you fall asleep or even if you wake up in the middle of the night—so you can address it in the morning.

In this way, while you sleep, you’re keeping your worries off your mind. At least for a few hours. Sweet dreams!

3. Making Sense of Dreams

Have you woken up wondering why you dreamt what you dreamt? Whether it’s a nice but confusing dream or a nightmare?

By writing it down, you can begin to put the pieces together. Often what we dream is what is most pressing to us. By writing it down, we bring our unconscious to the surface. I love that about dreams; it’s another resource in life’s toolbox.

4. Dealing with Unfinished Business

How often have people left our lives—through death, dementia, or divorce or any other way—and we find we’re frustrated and sad because we didn’t get the chance to let them know how we felt when they were with us?

Writing a letter to your departed mother, father, child, or anyone else who was important to you is a way of discharging those frustrating feelings. Writing down what you couldn’t say when they were with you soothes the heart and softens the hurt.

I remember when my dad passed away. I wasn’t there when he died, and I needed to write him and apologize. It wasn’t the same as being there, but it did give me some relief.

5. Minimizing Conflict with Difficult People

As we go through life, we can encounter difficult people from time to time. They might be members of our own families or just acquaintances—these people who don’t listen or for whatever reason can’t hear what we’re saying. It can be infuriating, especially when they are people we love, people who bring us joy but also incredible pain by their actions and words.

Rather than confront them directly, which can lead to escalating arguments and possibly outright rejection, it helps to step back.

You can’t talk to anyone who is emotionally upset—so worked up that all they want to do is get their point across. Sometimes it’s better not to add fuel to the fire by arguing. Better to leave before the problem gets worse and write down afterward what you wanted to say but knew in your heart you couldn’t deliver.

Writing allows you to express yourself on paper and avoid a confrontation that doesn’t serve anyone, least of all yourself. It can prevent the situation from festering like an untended wound.

6. Healing Old Wounds

I find writing fiction very therapeutic; it can heal old wounds. There’s something about letting out your thoughts and feelings on the page and giving them to your characters, especially ones that are troubling.

Say you’ve had a difficult experience, and it’s still sitting in your craw. You can write it into a story or a poem or a song and discharge it that way.

I found writing my last novel cathartic. It was inspired by a work experience I had on a psychiatric ward. It was a challenging job that didn’t go as I expected, and I met with considerable opposition.

I left after nine months, but the system I worked in and the feelings I had stayed with me. I got rid of those troubling thoughts by giving them to my protagonist, a psychiatric intern. Though I wrote a fictional story, writing it was like wiping my hands off the hurt and disappointment that was weighing me down.

So, joy of joys, I used what I learned from that tough time and wrote a book and a screenplay, and at the same time got some relief.

7. Paving the Way to Better Relationships

All of us have had those times when a relationship has soured. And it’s not because either you or the other party are difficult by nature. It’s just life. Misunderstandings crop up.

Writing can help you prepare what you want to say to improve the relationship, whether it’s with someone at home or at work or elsewhere. Sometimes in arguments, what is hoped for gets lost. It gets lost because one or both of the parties involved is too busy blaming and not listening.

If you can write your feelings down, and then edit them so that you can express what you want to without blame, you’ll have a greater chance of being heard.

Rehearsing those written words, keeping to the script, can help you deliver a coherent story.

How about you? Do you find writing therapeutic? In what ways?

Diana Stevan head shotDiana Stevan spent over twenty-five years as a clinical social worker. She’s also worked as a teacher, professional model, and actress. and a sports writer-broadcaster for CBC television. Some of her many published works include her novels A Cry from The Deep and The Rubber Fence. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, in beautiful British Columbia. Visit Diana at her website, Facebook Author Page, and on Twitter.

10 Responses to “7 Ways Writing Can Be Therapeutic for You”

  1. Garry Rodgers October 12, 2016 at 8:09 am #

    Excellent piece, Diana, and thanks for publishing this, Susanne. My daughter recently went through a traumatic incident and part of her psychiatric therapy was to write a letter to the other party describing how she felt over the incident and how it affected her. The letter was an exercise and was never intended to be delivered. It was an amazing relief for her. BTW, my daughter is a professional freelance writer and she said (finally being able to smile again) that this therapy improved her writing skills.

    • Diana Stevan October 12, 2016 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks, Garry, for your thoughts on this article and for sharing your daughter’s experience. Sorry about her traumatic incident. Life is not always easy. Glad she found a way that worked for her. Not all of us can talk about matters that bother us, so the pen or keyboard is another way of getting those traumatic feelings out.

  2. Roland Clarke October 12, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    Great article. I’m dealing with disability at the moment, and need to vent. I am writing a short story that is venting and deals with an incident I feel bad about. Definitely therapeutic.

    • Diana Stevan October 12, 2016 at 11:39 am #

      Roland, I’m sorry to hear about your disability. Frustration must be hard to contain at times. So great that you are sharing your thoughts and feelings in a short story, which is not only good for you but also for readers. For those who go through something similar or for those who need to understand the challenges.

      I had an unpleasant experience on my first job as a clinical social worker on a psych. ward. One that haunted me and I turned that into a novel, The Rubber Fence. Good luck with your health and your writing.

  3. James Stucky @WriteAnEssay October 12, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi Diana,

    I love the way you enumerate those things there. I am really fascinated because I myself experienced being down and hurt, yet my online option to heal and resolve the situation I was before is to write and write and write.

    I found out that through writing I uttered the deepest thoughts I am carrying that time. Until now, I read your piece and felt like I was driven back to what I was doing 4 years ago in order for me to survive this so called – Life.

    Well, anyways thanks for being an inspiration and heading off to share your piece on my social account.

    Cheers,

    James

    • Diana Stevan October 13, 2016 at 7:31 am #

      James, thank you for sharing. Life is full of challenges for all of us. They just look different for each one. And for whatever reason, too many of us think we should be able to figure it out all by ourselves. When there is no shoulder to cry on, or our thoughts are such that we either don’t want to burden those we love or are not sure of others’ reactions, writing down our angst can be a huge help. So glad you found it helpful. Have a lovely day.

  4. James Stucky @WriteAnEssay October 13, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    Hi Diana,

    Thanks Diana, exactly. You’re right. I am disappointed that time when you have to go all through those challenges and depression though you know you have your friends out there who are ready to listen. The only thing was I am hesitant to be with them maybe of insecurities? Or whatsoever, that I felt they might just laugh or what but naahhh, I’m moving on..Looking forward to read more articles here.

    Have a fruitful weekend ahead,

  5. Annabelle Franklin October 15, 2016 at 3:36 am #

    For me, writing fiction provides a holiday from the things that are bugging me. My writing makes me laugh, and that’s always good medicine.

    • Diana Stevan October 15, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      That’s so lovely, Annabelle. Writing can also be an escape. A retreat from our woes. I love the fact that as writers, we can create characters who are struggling with whatever is bothering us. Unlike in life, we have the power over our characters. We can make their lives great or grim, depending on our feelings. There is comfort in that.

      Sounds like you have a gift for the comical. My writing occasionally makes me laugh and when it does, I, like you, am delighted.

  6. debbie belair November 25, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    I agree. Writing has been a great savior for me. I had to work through emotions of anger after being taken out of a social work program…two weeks before I would graduate. It was then, that I starting writing poetry, now it is leading to my second career.

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