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The Benefits Of Writing Things Down

by Jane Thurnell-Read

Many practitioners ask clients to write things down as part of the therapeutic process. They know that clients benefit from relieving some of their stress and pent-up emotions through writing, and there's mounting evidence to support this view.


An article in the well-respected British Medical Journal in September 2003 explained how Suzanne Scott and colleagues from the Unit of Psychology, King’s College London, asked 36 people to write - half were asked to write about an emotional event in their lives, preferably one they had not talked about before, and the other half were asked to write on something more trivial, avoiding emotional language. They did this three times for 20 minutes each time over a week.


girl wriing stuff downIn the second week all the participants received an identical wound in the upper arm. The results showed that after 14 days the participants who had written about the traumatic events had significantly smaller wounds than the other group. This research shows that wounds heal more quickly if stress - even when it is unrelated -  is eased.


Qian Lu, assistant professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at University of Houston (UH) in the USA agrees that research has found that writing about emotionally difficult events for just 20 to 30 minutes at a time over three or four days increases the immune function. The release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body's capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.


Her own research with Asian-American breast cancer survivors also shows the benefit of writing down fears and emotions: "In my research study, I found long-term physical and psychological health benefits when research participants wrote about their deepest fears and the benefits of a breast cancer diagnosis."


The findings from the study suggest participants perceived the writing task to be easy, revealed their emotions, and disclosed their experiences in writing that they had not previously told others. Lu added that health outcomes associated with the expressive writing intervention include a decrease of fatigue, intrusive thoughts, and reducing posttraumatic stress after three months. She also noted a decrease of fatigue, posttraumatic stress, and the increase of qualify of life and positive affect after six months.


The UK charity Childline offer this advice on their website for those children who feel guilty but don't wnat to talk to anyone:


If it feels too difficult to talk about how you’re feeling you could try writing it down somewhere safe. List all the things you think you did or said that you’re feeling guilty about. For each of these things, write down what other emotions you were feeling at the time and what else was going through your mind.


Then try and write down the answer to these questions:


- Do you still feel the same now?
- Was anyone else involved?
- Is there anything you want to do differently?


Once you’ve got all your thoughts and feelings out then you might find you start to feel differently. When you feel ready to move on, you can choose what you want to do with what you have written. You could tear it up into a thousand pieces or lock it away in a secret place.