How Writing Helps Us Heal

October 17, 2018 by Emily Lockamy

Joan Didion, once asked: “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

The acclaimed author explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking. What I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Didion makes a profound point about the power of writing to increase self-understanding. A power that is accessible to all of us really, regardless of whether we are published authors or even “good” writers.

Recent research shows that the act of writing can, in fact, help us become aware of important truths and gain a firmer, fuller grasp on who we are and what we’ve endured. It can help us make meaning from difficult experiences, and more effectively integrate events and emotions into our lives, facilitating growth, resilience, and recovery.

“Writing allows you to access your wider mind, a wiser, more encompassing place deep within,” writes Susan Zimmermann, author of Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss Through Writing. 

But not every type of writing produces such results.

Louise DeSalvo, teacher and author of Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, explains that restorative and transformative writing involves writing in an intentional way, wherein you attempt to connect past experiences with the feelings you had at the time, and the feelings that come up now as you process that trauma, loss, or struggle. DeSalvo asserts that in putting pen to paper and linking our thinking and feelings from the past and the present, we can develop greater insight and a sense of empowerment — therapeutic effects that we miss out on when merely taking to the page to vent (which is shown to be unhelpful) or to write without any direction.

Focused writing becomes even more impactful when we take the step of sharing our words with empathic listeners, explains DeSalvo, as this audience can help reflect what we have expressed, identify gaps in our narrative, and open our eyes to patterns or personal strengths we cannot see.

Chrysalis Center for Counseling and Eating Disorder Treatment is now offering a new 6-week group that offers the opportunity for people to explore their emotional wounds through research-backed writing methods that provide the paradoxical structure and freedom shown to alleviate suffering and promote mental health, self-mastery, and connection. Writing exercises that both tap into the unconscious and create a safe container for the chaos of strong feelings. Writing that takes place in a comforting space free of judgment. Writing that unlocks the potential for peace.

Healing Words: A Therapeutic Writing Group is open to adults of all ages going through challenges that they wish to process through the art of writing. Perhaps you have lost a loved one, or an important relationship, or your home and/or sense of security after the hurricane. Perhaps you’re caregiving for a sick family member, or bringing a baby into the world, or dealing with the aftermath of an accident, an illness, or insecurity. Perhaps you feel lost or crippled by anxiety.

Whatever you’re contending with, writing as a therapeutic modality may be able to help you “discover and fulfill your deepest desire. To accept pain, fear, uncertainty, strife. But to find, too, a place of safety, security, serenity, and joyfulness. To claim your voice, to tell your story.” (DeSalvo, 2000).

To learn more about Healing Words, please email the group facilitator, Emily Lockamy, MA, LPCA at To register and schedule your group screening, call 910-790-9500.

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