According to research conducted by John W. Pennebaker, PhD, author of Opening Up, The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, “The ways you write or talk about upsetting experiences are important. In your writing, explore your deepest thoughts and feelings in a self-reflective way. Set aside a specific time and location to write continuously. If you talk to someone else, it helps if the person is objective and not personally involved. Don’t be surprised if you feel somewhat sad or depressed immediately after writing. The work of self-reflection can sometimes be painful even if the benefits are clear.”
Louise Desalvo, author of Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives agrees. “Writing that describes traumatic or distressing events in detail and how we felt about these events then and feel about them now is the only kind of writing about trauma that clinically has been associated with improved health.” When writing to heal, Desalvo and Pennebaker both recommend writing for a minimum of fifteen minutes a day over a four day period. Additional research shows that the more days people write, the more beneficial the effects.
The Write Your Story Workshop incorporates the research of such experts as Pennebaker and Desalvo, and presents it in a framework that is flexible, unique, engaging, and effective. Participants have the option of writing exclusively for healing—even shredding their work upon completion—or writing scenes based on feelings which can be collected and, over time, assembled into a book or blog.
The workshop begins with introductions and a brief overview of the content. My style is casual and conversational, and my goal is to create a safe and respectful environment where all participants feel comfortable and willing to take part in the process.
STEP 1: Believe you can write to heal. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, many people will be surprised at how quickly they discover the powerful voice within—one that brings healing to a traumatic situation. This step contains a 15 minute guided visualization designed to facilitate the writing process without judgment from the inner-critic.
STEP 2: Use tools to tap into the subconscious where emotional memories lie. Some of the tools covered are: visualization and guided Imagery, 5-minute writing blasts, laughter, whole body relaxation, physical exercise, consciously connected breathing, music and ambient sound, and affirmations.
STEP 3: Develop a list of emotionally-charged key words or phrases representing memories. Tapping into your emotions is the key to integrating and healing painful memories. By paying attention to the fear, anger, and grief that has been running your life, you can experience a sense of emotional freedom that is truly liberating.
STEP 4: Pick one memory to write about. The first time you do this, it is recommended that you pick a memory you feel comfortable sharing with the group, but some may feel comfortable getting right to the heart of the matter.
STEP 5: Speak your truth. For many, talking about an emotionally-charged memory can be just as therapeutic as writing about it. In this step, participants will share their emotions from Step 4, and those who choose will be given five minutes to tell their stories. Another option is to talk into a mirror in private.
STEP 6: Freewrite about the memory. Participants will write for 15 minutes in the group setting. You will be encouraged to continue the exercise at home.
STEP 7: Discuss the experience of freewriting. (Participants have the option to share what they have written or shred it—a way to release the traumatic experiences of the past). For some people, sharing with the group is too painful to do, and that is okay.
STEP 8: Take your writing to the next level. For many people, writing to heal launches them into writing scenes, first drafts, blog posts, and more. How to move from freewriting to more structured writing will be covered.