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Writing as therapy

Writing as therapy

There are many reasons to write. Some enjoy creating worlds, others write to earn money, and others write as a form of therapy.

I’ll start with the disclaimer that I am not a clinical therapist or psychiatrist, nor do I work in any mental health-related field. The views expressed in this article are strictly my views and do not constitute mental health advice.

Unfortunately, horrible things happen to people every day. Not everyone has the same response to a traumatic event. Writing can be therapeutic, or it can trigger people to relieve horrible experiences.

I want to discuss the latter first. Writing horrific personal experiences can trigger the author. Putting tragedies to paper (or screen) can reinforce the memories, draw out the pain, and provoke a PTDS episode. Writing traumas can be revictimised the victim because the smells, sounds, tastes, touches, of the adverse event(s) are relived.

The traumatised writer is often writing in the headspace of the trauma where personal agency and personal growth are removed from the target. Writing such events can create a cycle of despair and hopelessness, where the writer’s thoughts dwell on the negative and helplessness. The cycle spirals downwards, and the writer may be less inclined to seek appropriate support, develop stronger agency, and appropriate redress for the wrong.

Neural pathways are elastic. The more you think about something, the more it becomes entrenched in your brain. The more negative self-talk and trauma you relieve, the more likely you are to be depressed, anxious, and in a traumatised state.

Let’s flip this equation. Writing can be therapeutic when self-reflection focus on developing agency, resiliency, and the willingness to work through the trauma. Let’s take a real traumatic event, write about it accurately, and then focus on character growth and empowerment.

Individuals spend years in therapy to come to terms with certain horrible events. Some individuals never come to terms with their past, but they continue to work and strive and try.

Writing is a unique creative medium in which authors get to decide the fate of their characters. Authors can write worst-case, middle-of-the-road, and best-case scenarios and can think about different ways to help (or hinder) the character.

How the character develops resiliency can be adopted by the author. Conversely, the ways the characters hinder themselves (substance abuse, not wanting to take medication, doesn’t access other supports, and so on) can highlight some challenges for the author.

Often, articulating a problem in different ways helps people come up with different strategies.

Writing is cathartic. Putting words on paper gives the idea a shape and an emotional set. Some authors like to write out their worries, crumple the paper, and set it on fire (in a safe location). The little ritual helps them burn their cares away.

How to keep writing therapeutic:

  1. Don't dwell on one event (don't keep rewriting something) 
  2. Focus on positive character development 
  3. Explore how characters harm themselves and develop arcs where they have this realisation and seek support. Not every character has the resources they need to address problems fully, but they can reach out to community organisations and health organisations to get the help they can
  4. Explore the role of social dynamics in the story. Explore how the attitudes and behaviours of family, friends, community, and workplaces support or hinder positive character development. In identifying the harmful practices, the author can be more aware of them in their lives and become more assertive in reducing the presence of harmful influences
  5. Some people’s darkest moments have some of the sharpest moments of humour. Play around with humour to gain deeper insights into the human condition

Thank you, @Vince524 for the topic suggestion. Readers are encouraged to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation

The image of the cup of coffee next to notebooks is from Edar on Pixabay. 

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