The timer on my phone is set to 4 minutes. “OK everybody, go!”
A group of folks start scribbling in old school notebooks. We are writing something pretty simple. I asked them “What is something terrific that happened this week?" People actually smile as they write. This might not be what they expected when they joined a cancer support group called "Write For Your Life".
As they hit the three minute mark, I remember my first experience with therapeutic writing. It wasn’t what I'd expected either. I sat down at a coffee shop, put a notebook on one of their tiny round tables and was pressing so hard with my pen that I was sure I was engraving my thoughts on the unsuspecting surface under the paper. The wooden laminate wasn’t ready for how
angry I was at being sick. I had written things like “Why did I get cancer? What am I going to do now? How am I going to pay my bills after surgery?”
That was a pretty tough day. I certainly didn’t leave the coffee shop with any easy answers, but I did feel a bit better. It turns out, that wasn’t a coincidence. Therapeutic writing has benefits that would make any drug company jealous. Writing and journaling when you’re sick has been proven to (believe it or not) lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, reduce stress, and - get this - reduce the length of hospital stays.
I say “two minutes!” to the group. They write a bit faster. I noticed something else that happens as well. When we write in a group we give people the option of sharing what they have come up with. People tell bits of their story and we all learn from
everyone’s experience. At times we have all doubled over in laughter when someone talks about something ridiculous that happened or listen intently while a member shares a particularly tough challenge.
My timer rolls past one minute. People scribble even faster, trying to put the finishing touches on their short piece. “Remember, it’s OK if it’s not perfect, it’s your story and however you tell it is just fine.”
My phone chimes.
“Ok Everybody, times up. Does anyone want to read their piece?”
I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Come to the class and find out.
Here’s some fancy research:
- Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986)
- In clinical populations, a meta-analysis (Frisina et al, 2004) of nine expressive writing studies found a significant benefit for health.
- Expressive writing about one’s breast cancer, breast cancer trauma and facts related to breast cancer, significantly improved and physical and psychological health, such as the quality-of-life (Craft, Davis, & Paulson, 2012; Henry et al. 2010)
- Testicular cancer survivor participants assigned to the positive expressive writing showed significant improvements in physical and psychological health (Pauley, Morman, & Floyd, 2011)