Expressive writing

Writing has always been my way of trying to process and understand events and experiences, and to write out ideas, plans, wishes and hypotheses for the time and space I have yet to move through in life’s journey. I use a technique called ‘The Morning Pages’ as my daily brain dump – except I do them at night before I go to sleep as it helps me process the day and clear my head. I also use it to understand how I feel about certain things because I don’t always know until I write it out.

This is something that fascinates me. In everyday life I find that there is so much to be dealing with that feelings often get suppressed or not even registered. This has to happen in order to get on with the day, function effectively, and maintain relationships. But all of this information that is either suppressed or not attended to doesn’t disappear. It is still there somewhere. When I do my daily ‘brain dump’ I often notice things about an event that I had no idea had registered with me at the time. Sometimes I find an emotion is there to be processed and I now know how to let the sensations of an emotion be present without being scared of them. They come, and then they go, if you let them. This emotional offloading or suppressing is quite a fascinating mechanism.

I do have to be honest though, I cannot always do the writing task every day. Sometimes I sit and scroll on my phone instead, or can’t be bothered to write, or the pen and pad aren’t within reach. I notice a difference when I don’t do it though. My head gets woolly and confused and I feel like I’ve got loads of ‘stuff’ to process. I’m like a cupboard that has been overstuffed and is full to bursting. But this is normal too, and one thing I’ve learned as a therapist is to ease up on myself. It’s okay to not keep up with things, it’s okay to slip up, it’s okay that I didn’t keep up with the daily chores, or the daily brain dump. But it does help me to do it, so I’ll help myself to do it tonight.

Expressive writing is important to me personally, and I also use it in my psychotherapy work with clients – where relevant. There is a good body of research to show how this can benefit us. If you are interested have a look at the work of James Pennebaker. But there are other forms of writing that are used therapeutically. I’ve recently begun practising Cognitive Behavioural Writing Therapy (CBWT) developed by Arnold van Emmerik at the University of Amsterdam. This is used as a trauma-focused approach for those who wish to use writing rather than talking as a primary approach.

There is also Poetry therapy, Hip hop therapy and many other forms of writing for wellbeing projects. Have a look at Lapidus for some of these projects. Through writing, and through therapy, we can process our feelings, learn to offload, and understand what our story has been up til now. We can think about whether this is a story we want to continue. Although it can seem impossible at first, it is more than possible to construct or ‘write’ a new way of being, or ‘story’.

You matter, and your story matters.