Notes from a Therapist’s Desk…
The kids are back to school! Perhaps you can breathe a little easier, and maybe even make some time for yourself. Why not pull out that journal you haven’t used yet and express yourself through writing? Writing is a powerful, fun, accessible way to work through difficult experiences, anxiety, and stress. As an expressive arts facilitator and a therapist who incorporates the expressive arts into treatment, I have had the privilege of introducing different writing techniques to people of all ages. Here’s a few ideas about how you can rediscover yourself through writing…
One common writing technique, called freewriting, involves writing down whatever comes to mind. When you first start freewriting, it helps to give yourself a bit of structure. Choose a specific amount of time to write for, and don’t stop until time is up. This will help you push past blocks that come up.
Freewriting without a prompt may seem a bit scary at first, like you are staring at a blank, white canvas. But it can help develop your ability to connect to what’s going on inside.
How do you get started? All you need is some paper and a pen or pencil.
- Find a quiet place to sit. Set a timer. Five minutes is usually a good place to start.
- Write whatever comes to mind. Keep your hand writing the entire time. If you don’t know what to write, write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over until a new thought comes to mind.
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.
- As writing teacher Natalie Goldberg writes in her book, Wild Mind, give yourself permission to “write the worst junk in America.”
- If something difficult comes up, write it down! Don’t censor yourself. It’s not helpful.
Other Writing Tools
Using a writing prompt or sentence stem like: “I feel…” or, “I am thinking about…” can also be a good way to get started. Each time you finish a sentence with your chosen sentence stem, start another sentence with the same stem. Continue to write this way until time is up.
Sometimes a progression of carefully chosen sentence stems can help you go deeper. Try this writing exercise, inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Start with, “I am thinking about…” and write for a couple of minutes. Then switch to, “I am not thinking about…” for a couple of minutes. You may find that this exercise tends to shake things up!
The Health Benefits of Writing
While you may feel a little sad immediately after writing, you will likely feel happier and more positive in the long-term. There is now a lot of research that shows some forms of writing can support the immune system, improve chronic health problems, reduce stress, improve working memory, and enhance the quality of our relationships.
Know that you will likely need to wait a while before trying to write about a traumatic event. Writing immediately after a very stressful experience often makes people feel worse, not better. Be kind to yourself, and listen to what your body needs. If writing does not feel good at the moment, it doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Give yourself a break, and come back to it later.
Introducing Expressive Writing to Children and Teens
Writing can be a wonderful method of self-expression for children and teens as well. However, many children and teens think writing is just for school. The thought of writing on their own may seem crazy! They may have struggled with learning how to write or simply never had a positive experience writing outside of school. Children may assume someone will always be there to judge or critique their work. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Once I explain to children and teens that they don’t need to share their writing with anyone (including me), they are usually willing to give it a try. “You can rip it up afterwards if you want,” I say. And… surprise! Most find writing helpful and are open to doing it some more.
As a parent, you can support your child’s self-expression by letting them know you will respect their privacy, and not read their writing. Encourage siblings to do the same. You can also let your child know that if they ever do want to share their writing, you are there for them. Learn helpful ways to respond to a child’s creative expression here.
Creating a Regular Writing Practice
Would you or your child want to create a regular writing practice? Read about 8 steps you can take to develop a new habit. Although there’s nothing wrong with only writing when you feel inspired to do so, some find creating a regular writing practice to be helpful. Continue to tune into this blog for more creative activities that can help support your family’s well-being.
At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.