The Benefits of Reflective Writing
I write to make sense of the critical voice that rises within me and even at my age, manages to frighten and shame me.
I write to remember that many of the beliefs I was taught aren’t true and that a need to be ‘perfect’ is a decision to delude myself and continue buying into lies.
I write to strengthen the part of me who knows I’m not the illusions and judgments that were imposed on me.
I write to reshape my beliefs into something gentler toward myself.
I write to remember the "Me" who is greater than my thoughts, greater than my feelings, more than my body, beyond the limitations of time and space.
I write to observe, explore and experience - to feel everything and judge nothing.
I write to be free.
I write to be.
- Participant, Writing into the Light workshop
Try to make writing a daily practice. Twenty minutes a day is all you need to reap the benefits and sense of personal freedom that writing gives you.
Think about the space and surroundings that you feel would best nourish your writing. Whether you’re naturally more content in a sun-filled room, propped up in your bed, or writing quietly in a room lit by candles, incorporate them into your practice as often as possible.
Incorporate relaxing music in the background. Music is the language of the soul and speaks to us at the level of feelings and emotion.
Ensure you’re physically comfortable and free from distractions. You might want to turn off the phone and the television, and write in the early morning or after your children are asleep in the evening.
Reflective, or therapeutic writing, benefits anyone who practices it. School children can write through troublesome emotions and find creative solutions to problems, senior citizens can take a more active role in expressing loneliness and managing discomfort. Writing can alleviate stress, propel you through transition, relieve pain and heal broken emotions.
Remember, reflective writing is therapeutic but it’s not meant to take the place of therapy. If your writing brings up traumatic memories or feelings that are overwhelming, consult a counselor or psychologist to help you work through the difficult emotions.
Elaine McManus is a communications and training specialist. She offers classes and workshops in corporate communications, life-story writing and creative nonfiction. Elaine can be reached at (902)444-1680 or by email at
And so begins a Saturday morning workshop in therapeutic writing. It’s raining this morning and people smile hesitantly at each other as they shake the water off their umbrellas and hang up their coats. Although some people have kept a journal and a few have dabbled in short stories, there’s a shyness in the room as though they know that this writing is ‘different’ in that it requires something more than facts and research – it asks that they bring themselves to the page. Sharing the stories they write is optional, but most people find the nurturing environment and warmth of the other participants helps them overcome their initial shyness and many of the participants, who didn’t know each other when they first arrived, are soon sitting easily together, drinking tea, sharing stories and offering feedback.
Benefits of Therapeutic Writing
Therapeutic writing is also known as reflective writing, proprioceptive writing or creative journaling. Through therapeutic writing we discover who we are, how we think and what we feel in relation to our world. Writing for self-discovery allows us to reveal aspects of our deeper selves that have longed for expression and we learn to become our own guide through life’s difficult transitions. Therapeutic writing isn’t about grammar and syntax and polishing a piece for publication, although that can come later. It’s about bypassing our inner critic and writing from a deeper place where memory, emotion and spirit fuse together.
Extensive research has been conducted on the benefits of therapeutic writing. It’s been found to ease stress, help us better understand ourselves and the world around us, and increase our sense of self-acceptance and esteem. Even more dramatic, though, are findings that prove therapeutic writing can heal grief and illness.
Researchers have found that people who write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding painful events have stronger immune systems and visit their doctors half as often as those who write only about insignificant events. Interestingly, the studies also found that writing only about the facts surrounding a stressful event had no effect on the writer’s well-being and, in some cases, made them feel worse. It was when the participants wrote about what happened and how they felt about it, that healing was shown to occur.
Journaling research conducted at the State University of New York at Stoneybrook confirmed these findings. The research tested over 100 people with chronic asthma and arthritis. The patients were randomly divided into two groups of fifty. One group was asked to simply write for 20 minutes for three days in a row about a stressful event in their lives. The other group was asked to simply write down their plans for the day. They found that 47% of the patients with asthma and arthritis improved significantly after writing about their stressful experience. Only half as many, 24%, who wrote about their daily plans, reported similar improvement. More importantly, 22% of the people who only wrote about their daily plans worsened substantially over the four month period, while only 4% of those who wrote about their stressful events did so. (The Science Behind Journaling Your Way to Health; Pamela M. Peek, MD, MPH; The Journal of the American Medical Association).
Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and a pioneer in therapeutic writing research, says developing a deeper understanding of a stressful event and the emotions it generates helps the brain digest the information. He says that when you analyze an event your brain turns it into a story that’s stored more easily. "Storytelling simplifies a complex experience," he says. "The degree to which writing about basic thoughts and feelings can produce profound physical or psychological changes is nothing short of amazing." (James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., Opening Up, The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions).
But you don’t have to have experienced trauma to benefit from reflective writing. All of us are faced with stresses, too many things to do, and pressing decisions that affect our daily lives. Through journal writing, we can record and claim our personal stories and come to understand the deeper meaning in our experiences. Sharing our thoughts with the page allows us a safe place to explore and reframe where we’ve been, where we are now, and how we envision our future. By writing about the ‘stuff of our lives’ we can sort out how we feel and what’s important to us, as opposed to taking on the opinions and judgments that are imposed on us by others. Writing helps us clarify our personal values, become aware of our choices, understand the sources of our fears and anxieties, make better decisions for ourselves, and come to know our deepest dreams and desires. What’s more, by giving yourself permission to write anything in your journal, without censor, you’ll find that if you stay with your feelings of anger and frustration, you will write through to feelings of sorrow, compassion and acceptance.
How to Begin
So, how do you begin to write in a more reflective way? Here’s an easy way to start. Begin by selecting a notebook or journal for your writing. It can be a beautiful, leather-bound journal with manila pages or a simple coil notebook. Look at several journals and notebooks in art supply stores and bookstores, wander the school-supply isle in a department store and let the journal pick you. When you’ve selected the journal and pen or pencil that feels comfortable for you, you’re ready! Here are a few more things you might want to consider to make your journaling experience more rewarding: