Therapy can take many forms, and creative types of therapy are growing in popularity. The Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada integrates Music Therapy and Art Therapy as essential parts of the healing experience for kids staying in the hospital, as do many other hospitals including the Children’s Hospital Colorado, Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, and the Boston Children’s Hospital.
You don’t need a therapist, an art teacher, or a writing coach to use writing as a form of therapy for yourself. For this type of self-healing, you are completely in control. You never have to share your writing with anyone – in fact, you can burn it when you’re finished if you like.
Writing, whether autobiographical or fictional, allows us to imagine how a scenario might play out. Truth is stranger than fiction, and scenes from our own lives can end up in the middle of our novel (and spice things up) but end in the way that we wanted them to, whatever that looks like. Having a character say selfish or hurtful things doesn’t hurt anyone the way it might if we said the same things out loud, so writing out a scene can allow your feelings to be expressed without consequences. In this way, you can change the imagined outcome, say what you wanted to say, and possibly get closer to letting things go that insist on sticking around in your mind.
Writing also allows us to make sense of the past as we tell our story. When you look at a broader view of the past, you can begin to see patterns of behaviour as well as the causes and effects that have affected your life. Again, this can be confessional and autobiographical, or you may end up setting your life into another world and creative fictional circumstances around the scenes of your past to give yourself a little more distance from potentially triggering memories.
Another way that creative writing can be therapeutic is that it can allow you to explore an issue from someone else’s point of view. What if you wrote a scene from your spouse’s point of view after an argument? What if you wrote about the experience of a refugee? What if you wrote about being a victim of discrimination? There is a reason that readers have been found to be more empathetic than other parts of the population; readers and writers regularly put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and in doing so, they experience many things beyond the narrow scope of their own existence.
Writing of any kind allows you to observe your own thoughts and feelings from a bit of distance and may give you insight into what makes you “tick.” Writing is a form of mindfulness, and gaining this understanding of yourself can help you be more understanding, calm, and grounded.
If you want to use writing as a form of therapy, you don’t need any fancy tools. You may prefer writing on your computer or in a notebook; either way, ensure your writing will stay private as long as you want it to. Try setting a timer and writing for a set amount of time without stopping: 6 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes at a time. If you feel stumped on where to start, try posing yourself one of the following questions:
- Has anything happened lately that I wish had gone differently? What would it look like if it had gone the way I wanted?
- What makes me happy about my life?
- What makes me unhappy about my life?
- What would I like to change about my life?
- What makes me grateful?
- What was my childhood like?
- What are my parents like?
- What am I looking for?
- What am I interested in exploring?
- What am I passionate about?
Give it a try, and let me know how it goes in the commens. Happy writing!