Writing for Health & Healing: a therapeutic writing group for women

Over the last 30 years, an abundance of research has demonstrated how helpful expressive writing is in improving both physical and mental health. Very few people, (even very few therapists), make use of this knowledge by including expressive writing in their lives. Interestingly, most researchers in this area have relied on groups of college students who were most likely reimbursed for their participation. Without that reimbursement, perhaps the college students would not have done any writing either!

If you would like to learn more about joining a therapeutic writing group, contact us. For more information about our next Writing for Health and Healing group for women that meets in Lane Cove North, please click here.

People who are seeing a therapist and are willing to do writing as a form of "homework" will make progress faster and therefore will attend fewer therapy sessions as a result. But what about people who don't feel the need to see a therapist but are nevertheless affected by bad memories of painful or traumatic events?

If you are someone who had a flair for writing in high school or who had hoped that maybe one day you would write a book or memoir, then you perhaps you are one of the few who have the self-discipline and motivation to make use of one of the self-help books on expressive writing. I have included links to some of these books below. But there are many people who read those books and still cannot make themselves write. There are many more readers than writers!

So the difficulty is essentially one of motivation. Why do we find it hard to motivate ourselves to write even when we know it is good for us?

The first reason is that many of us are already so busy that we are unlikely to add another task to our list when we are accountable to no one but ourselves for achieving it.

The second reason is that to protect ourselves, we have a tendency to avoid that which is emotionally painful. This makes sense. Most of us will find excuses not to write about painful events even if we know it will help us. Writing is not immediately reinforcing because it doesn’t usually help us feel better right away. If we get upset when we write about something sad or painful, it might take a couple of hours or a good night’s sleep to feel normal again. Research shows that the benefits of writing are not immediate but occur over the medium to long term.

The third reason is that writing is a solitary activity. Even many professional writers say that writing is a lonely experience. If you are already feeling a bit down or lonely, it might be hard to do something that makes you even feel lonelier.

To increase our motivation for writing, we have to find a way to be accountable, to be supported in facing the pain, and to connect to like-minded others so that we don’t feel lonely. A writing group can help us increase our motivation. Meeting once a week or so to report on what they have written, participants feel accountable, they write more and, when they hear other people’s stories, they feel inspired to write.

If your overall goal is to produce fiction or a good memoir for publication, then you need to find a writers' group to get instruction in the craft of writing and to get feedback on the quality of your writing. You will write more, become a better writer and probably also make friends.

But if your goal is not to publish a book, but to experience personal growth, better health, and the resolution of painful emotions, then what you need is a therapeutic writing group, a small group that will help you maintain the motivation to write and that will the support you to write about emotionally painful experiences. When an experienced therapist manages the group process, participants feel contained and safe. When you read your writing aloud (and you choose what and when to read) participants respond with acknowledgement and support. They do not give you any feedback on your style or instruction on the craft of writing. You choose what you will share within the group and what pieces you keep private.

If you would like to learn more about joining a therapeutic writing group, contact us. For more information about our next Writing for Health and Healing group for women that meets in Lane Cove North, please click here.


Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain (2016) by James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth

Expressive Writing: Words that Heal Paperback (2014) by James Pennebaker and John Evans

Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval (2004)

by James W. Pennebaker

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