Writing is a Form of Personal Therapy
by: Dermot Davis
Many professionals in the mental health field recommend writing as a form of therapy, what some refer to as “expressive therapy.” Writing about our feelings or about emotional traumas of the past can be very beneficial in helping ease the emotional charge we may still be holding onto as a result of an event or series of events in our past. Some therapists recommend to their clients that they keep daily journals in order to chronicle their emotions as they ebb and flow in their daily lives. Some therapists recommend that, as an exercise, they write letters to people in their past and present with which they have unresolved emotional issues with. People are advised to write to their father or their mother, for instance, and are encouraged not to hold back in expressing how they feel or in what way they may be hurting as a consequence of their interactions with people in their lives, past or present. Once the letters are written, they are then advised not to send them but instead to tear them up into tiny little pieces. The exercise was not to inform other people of their feelings but rather to bring to their own awareness the emotional hurts and woundings that they have been carrying around with them and for whatever reason had never been successfully expressed before.
“Expressive therapy” may seem like a modern form of helping patients deal with emotional wounds of the past but, in actual fact, the practice has been going on for centuries. The people engaged in this age-old activity are known to us and some of them are downright famous. We refer to them as writers.
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Graham Greene from Ways of Escape.
It can be argued that rather than tear up their anguished writings into tiny little pieces, some people have instead opted to put a title upon their manuscripts and publish them instead. Rather than revealing the real people that these writers were writing about, they simply changed the names and called their writings, “fiction.” The playwright, Eugene O’Neill, admitting that the work he was writing was so deliberately biographical, as a mark of respect to any remaining real-life family personages, he forbade any production of it for 25 years after his death. The writing of the work was so personal and so emotionally painful for him to write that he later referred to it as “this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.”
Rather than vilify these authors or indeed, consider them crazy or in some way accuse them of trying to cash in on their emotional miseries, we honor and encourage them. O’Neill’s play, Long Days Journey into Night was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the author himself was granted the grande dame of literary accolades, the Nobel Prize for literature.
Writing as a form of mental therapy? Wonderful. Getting paid and winning awards as a consequence of publishing such writings? Priceless.
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Genre - Literary Fiction
Rating – PG