Writing as Therapy

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.” 

Ever since I read those lines by Prof. Dumbeldore in Harry Potter, I have wanted a similar Pensieve. Sadly, for want of a wand and quick magical powers I am forced to stick to paper, ink and some time alone.

As a writer just hearing the scratch of pen on paper itself is pure bliss and writing brings out many an emotions in me. The immediate relief of jotting down an idea even if it is a shopping list or my kid’s homework schedule; the sense of accomplishment of having completed a piece of writing, the frustrations of not getting the exact emotions on paper. But most profound in my attempts at writing have been the aimless wandering of my restless mind on paper. Sometimes in finding the right idea, sometimes to understand a problem and many a times just a silent companion as I plough through the emotional maelstrom to find myself a calm anchor.

Whether in ink or the inner monologue that we to listen to everyday, writing guides us toward our higher calling.

In the words of Graham Greene, Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”  

Writing is a meditative experience, a talk with your soul, psyche and a deeply enriching one at that. Writing therapy today is an important tool, a form of expressive therapy used widely in hospitals with patients dealing with their mental and physical illnesses, as well as in university settings aiding students in self-awareness and self-development. Clinically they are classified into therapeutic writing, free writing and reflective writing. Although people have written diaries and journals for centuries, the therapeutic potential of reflective writing didn’t come into public awareness until the 1960s, when Dr. Ira Progoff, a psychologist in New York City, began offering workshops and classes in the use of what he called the Intensive Journal method.

So what makes writing so powerful? A nice rant can work wonders too. Maybe even reading a good book.

The basic difference is in the kind of cure. An rant and submerging your emotions in a book is an attempt to bury your emotions, sweep them under the carpet. While writing does the torturous duty of confronting them.

It isn’t alchemy that makes the concept of merely venting out on paper a fundamentally life changing experience.  The mere act of penning down your thoughts, emotions and even fears can be incredibly cathartic. Writing is understanding our thoughts through a personal, inward looking lens that may not have existed till language was put to use. Words are a medium. They express, clarify, illuminate beyond the factual details to the deepest thoughts and emotions.

Cognitively, writing has been shown to increase working memory and performance in patients. Writing is more deliberate and personal. Hence there are better chances on being honest than having a heart to heart chat with your best friend. In this context, writing is like a truth serum. The greatest advantage being the paper is non-judgmental and hence will not ridicule, scoff, judge or carry tales.

Writing is both the teacher and the lesson that individualizes the course to suit your needs and will guide you to a more positively driven life. It is a multi-dimensional catalyst of change and learning that acts as a sieve separating your fears, insecurities, confusion and helps understand and confront them from the outside in.

As leading theorist in writing therapy James Pennebaker explains, “The development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganize and structure traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive internal schemas.”

As a writer again I have found this to be my best therapy. Free writing of my thoughts that encourage no standards, compare no other work, disregard the odd grammatical error breathes new life into my writing. Perhaps the most important writing element that Writing Therapy enables is the discovery of your voice. Writing about your life is the best way to discover and develop your writing voice. Only you can tell your true story. You are the only person who has your perspective. Writing your life is a gift that only you can offer to the world.

So write freely, even if it is for just yourself. Many a great memoirs on the bestsellers stands today began with the same idea.

Some writing exercises

Random Writing – The Mind Dump

Write. Anything. Don’t know what to write? Begin with that line and write for a set period of time – 10 minutes or half an hour. It may read as nonsense, and that’s okay. That’s how our minds work. Write down all the random, apparently nonsensical words and sentences, anything that comes to mind. You might include brief descriptions or sketches of any images that come to mind. Don’t change or edit anything. Simply write.

Dumbeldore’s Pensieve.

Write about any emotion, thought or problem that’s overwhelming you right now. Vagueness and confusion can be overwhelming too. Write through the emotions till you come out the other end, clear and confident.

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