The beneficial effects of writing have been known since ancient times when Apollo was the god of both poetry and healing. In recent times these have been described in different forms – the physical effect of writing on brain activity, the role of writing in releasing inner creativity, creative writing as a means to improve health and well-being, and also as a therapeutic tool in health and social care services.
Believe it or not, the physical act of writing itself has been found to have a positive effect on our wellbeing. Many people feel drawn to write down their feelings and experiences in diaries, poems and songs especially when they’re feeling strong emotions such as grief, despair, love or joy. It seems that regardless of the quality of the writing, this can be very beneficial.
Researchers from the University of California have been studying the effects of writing and found there is an emotional benefit to expressing ourselves in print, a kind of regulation of distress. Apparently writing tends ‘to reduce activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain connected with emotion and fear and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the mind’s regulator.’ (Daily Telegraph, 16/2/09)
How would you like to wake up and write 3 pages every day for 12 weeks? Write whatever comes into your head and don’t look at what you’ve written for at least 8 weeks. This advice comes from Julia Cameron, author of a programme designed to help discover and recover your Creative Self.
These ‘morning pages’ are not meant to be well written. The idea is that you allow your hand to move across the page and write anything that comes to mind. “Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid or too weird to be included” says Julia.
The process of writing down thoughts and feelings on a daily basis can help to tackle your self-doubts, self-criticism and worries, and release your hidden inner creative talents.
Why not join a creative writing group where creative expression as a way of enhancing health and well-being is more important than learning to write technically well. The benefits of a group experience can be:
- A sense of trust and community – reading out a few sentences or a poem encourages the sharing of quite difficult feelings
- Increased awareness of other people and the environment
- Greater self-esteem through insights or writing achievements shared with the group
Don’t feel put off by the fear of having to read out your work in a critical environment – in groups like these the emphasis is on nurturing and encouraging creativity. Lapidus is an organization which promotes group initiatives such as these, with its belief that ‘words used creatively can be a powerful tool for health and personal and community development – through the writing, reading and performing of poetry, prose, fiction, drama and story.’ (http://www.lapidus.org.uk )
In health and social services, creative writing is being recognized more widely as a therapeutic tool particularly working with mental health problems. When people are in a state of mental distress or depression, writing is one way of expressing negative feelings and gaining distance from them. It can also be a way of accessing happy memories and identifying a time frame when things were not so bad. Creative writing can be a relatively safe form of expressing difficult, contradictory and dangerous feelings and enable them to be explored further as part of therapy.
Imagination and reminiscence can be encouraged through creative writing, skills to improve concentration and orientation in time can be developed. An additional benefit is that someone who finds creative writing helpful in a therapeutic environment may also join a community based group which can support the ongoing process of rehabilitation and social inclusion.
Bolton G et al (2004), Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy, Brunner-Routledge, New York
Phillips D. et al (1999), Writing Well: Creative Writing and Mental Health, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London
Cameron J. (1995), The Artists Way, Pan Macmillan, London