Writing is frequently used in addiction recovery programs, most commonly in the form of journaling. During rehabilitation, the process of journaling can help a person learn more about themselves, reduce stress levels, increase accountability, clarify feelings, track progress and more.
In addition to journaling, there are numerous other forms of writing therapy that have proven beneficial for the ongoing recovery process, even after the initial rehabilitation program has been completed.
The Essence of Writing Therapy
The act of writing and processing the written word is a powerful form of expression used by humans for millennia. The underlying essence of writing therapy posits that writing out one’s feelings and thoughts gradually relieves emotional trauma and enables a person to better understand and respond to their condition.
The field of writing therapy includes many practitioners in a variety of settings. Therapeutic writing can take place individually or in a group, and it can be administered in person with a therapist or remotely through mail or the Internet. As with most forms of therapy, writing therapy can be adapted and used to work with a wide range of conditions, including addiction, bereavement, desertion and abuse.
The Psychology of Writing Therapy
Acknowledging the therapeutic power of writing stems from understanding how the writing process benefits the mind. Writing is much more than simply trying to compose nice sentences; in fact, writing therapy isn’t necessarily concerned with how well something is written.
Writing therapy is focused on something more essential to the recovery process: introspection. This involves an attempt to make sense of the past and to examine it from various angles, while writing about experiences, events and people that contributed to one’s life. Through writing, individuals see cause and effect and are enabled to understand psychological processes that can significantly increase self-understanding.
There is also a redemptive component to writing therapy as it helps those in recovery make solid commitment to change. For example, when writing and reflecting about one’s past, it becomes apparent that those were previous times and places to which one cannot return. The journey must move forward, which requires acceptance and change.
The Advantages of Writing Therapy
Of course, theories about writing therapy are only meaningful if there are bona fide results and benefits that can be derived from the practice. Those in recovery will find many advantages for therapeutic writing. Some examples, for which there is documented supporting evidence, include the following:
- Immediacy of expression: In writing, there is direct expression of feeling, without the need for an intermediary.
- Greater client control within the therapeutic relationship: Writing gives the client a high degree of freedom to define his or her own experiences, to explore whatever feels most relevant and to proceed at the rate with which they are most comfortable.
- Better privacy: The relative anonymity of writing helps overcome the debilitating emotion of shame.
- Active participation: Writers feel more confident because they are taking an active role in their own recovery and healing process.
- Permanent record: Enables easier identification and recall of recovery successes and overall progress. Also helps identify past experiences that led to relapse.
- Improved accountability and communication: Therapist supervision tasks are more transparent. The client and counselor have greater opportunity for reflection and clarity in communication.