“The Sydney writers’ festival’s 2016 theme is bibliotherapy, the idea that literature has meditative and restorative effects. “Books are places we can lose ourselves and at the same time find the answers to whatever we might be searching for, even if we don’t quite know what that is,” said the festival’s artistic director Jemma Birrell.
“Writing can heal: Effects of self-compassion writing among Hong Kong Chinese college students”
Self-compassion (i.e., self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) has repeatedly been shown to be associated with mental and physical well-being. The results of this study showed that a self-compassion writing group reported a significant drop in physical symptoms at 1- and 3-month follow-up in comparison to a control writing group who reported no significant change in physical symptoms across time. The findings suggested that self-compassion writing may benefit physical health.
Asian American Journal of Psychology, Vol 7(1), March 2016. pp. 74-82.
Creative writing in recovery from severe mental illness
by Robert King, Philip Neilsen and Emma White
Creative activity has a substantial history in psychosocial rehabilitation for people with more severe forms of mental illness. Creativity has sometimes taken the form of diversional therapy, with the primary role of occupying time in a satisfying way or promoting social interaction. In other contexts, it has taken the form of an adjunct to psychological therapy, either as a window into the unconscious or as a means for promoting communication among clients, such as children for whom verbal communication alone might be difficult. Creative writing therapists informed by psychoanalytic theory have reported on the benefits of quite complex and sophisticated forms of writing, such as fictionalized autobiography. Poetry therapy is one of the longest established types of writing therapy, and has the practical virtue of brevity and the creative virtue of encouraging creative play with imagery.
The authors of this article identified three theoretical frameworks that explain why creative writing might play an important role in recovery from mental illness. These theories propose that writing can contribute to the development of personal identity, to the repair of symbolic functioning, and that it can remediate cognitive functioning. When considered in the light of a possible genetic link between schizotypy and creativity, these theories help us to understand why writing is an important and valued form of self-expression for many people recovering from severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia.
The therapeutic value of creative writing might be most effectively achieved when there is a focus on the processes and techniques of writing, and not just on self-expression. When a person develops skill in writing process, and technique builds, it is likely to enhance the capacity to develop and sustain a coherent narrative. Equally importantly, these skills expand capacity to make use of locally- or informally-available resources. Writing technique is, in part, concerned precisely with the development of this ability. A focus on process and technique might also optimize the cognitive remediation benefits associated with creative writing. This is because the development of writing technique requires the development of cognitive procedures starting with basic processes, such as concentration, and then learning rules and more complex decision-making concerning style and form. Of all the creative arts, writing is the least dependent on equipment and/or special environments. It therefore lends itself to deployment in a wide range of settings.
International Journal of Mental Health Nursing (2013) 22, 444–452
“What’s interesting—and maybe a bit counterintuitive—is that reading fiction can provide many of those same self-improvement benefits, even while exploring other worlds through stories that exist only in the mind. In fact, the practice of using books, poetry and other written words as a form of therapy has helped humans for centuries. Fiction is a uniquely powerful way to understand others, tap into creativity and exercise your brain. The next time you feel even a tiny bit guilty for picking up a work of fiction instead of a self-help book, consider these 9 benefits of reading fiction…”
It is generally believed that disclosing information about themselves allows people to free their minds of unwanted thoughts, helps them to make sense of upsetting events, teaches them to better regulate their emotions, habituated them to negative emotions, and improves their connections with their social world, all of which can lead to beneficial effects on health and well-being.
Although self-disclosure is generally accepted as a beneficial activity, some researchers have begun to call into question its usefulness, asking if it really works, and if so, how well it works. To help answer this question Joanne Frattaroli conducted a meta-analysis (a study of studies) of academic papers in this field.
Frattaroli found that self-disclosure was beneficial for psychological health, physical health, and overall functioning. She also found that the most successful studies tended to use participants with a health problem or a history of trauma, to make sure participants were very comfortable during disclosure (e.g., by allowing them to disclose at home), to pay participants, to administer a large dose of disclosure (e.g., by requiring at least three disclosure sessions), to have participants disclose events that have yet to be fully processed (e.g., more recent events), to provide very detailed and specific disclosure instructions (e.g., directed questions), and to have relatively short follow-up periods (e.g., less than 1 month).
Following are some of her specific findings:
- Many health outcomes were found to significantly improve as a result of self-disclosure, except for health behaviors. Studies using participants with physical health problems had larger reported health effect sizes in comparison with healthy participants.
- Although psychological distress, depression, subjective well-being, anger, and anxiety were shown to improve as a result of self-disclosure, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that it has any effect on outcomes related to grief, bereavement, stress, coping strategies, stress-related growth (e.g., becoming more spiritual as a result of a stressful or traumatic event), eating-disorder-related problems, or dissociative experiences. Self-disclosure may only be helpful for grief associated with stigma, such as suicidal grief.
- Measures of physiological functioning are most amenable to self-disclosure if they are related to the immune system (e.g. HIV viral load, liver function, and dopamine).
- Participants who were higher in stress, poorer in physical health, and lower in optimism were most likely to benefit from self-disclosure.
- Outcomes related to work, school, social relationships and cognitive functioning were improved by self-disclosure.
- Participants with a history of trauma or stressors had a larger subjective effect.
- Studies in which participants disclosed at home had larger psychological health effects than studies in which participants disclosed in a controlled setting. It may be that giving participants the opportunity to disclose at home allows them to be more comfortable and relaxed and encourages them to become more engaged in the disclosure process.
- The audience of disclosure (i.e. no one will read or hear the disclosure vs. experimenter will read or hear disclosure) was found to effect the psychological health outcomes. That is, studies in which the participant’s disclosure was private had larger effect sizes than studies in which the participant’s disclosure was turned in to (and read by) the experimenter.
Experimental disclosure and its moderators: A meta-analysis. By: Frattaroli, Joanne, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 132, Issue 6, 2006, pp. 823-65
By Toni Kennedy
Writing about a past traumatic experience has been repeatedly associated with improvements in health and psychological wellbeing. An explanation of these beneficial effects is that the process allows an active reappraisal of the event, marked by changes in cognitive linguistic indicators. One experiment examined the benefits of changes in words expressing cognitive reappraisal on levels of anxiety, as a proxy of stress. Seventy undergraduates, randomly divided in experimental and control groups, wrote about a past painful event or a neutral topic. In a longitudinal design, measures of anxiety were assessed before the writing sessions and four months afterwards. Findings confirm that expressive writing has positive effect on anxiety after a four-month-long follow-up period.
Although women with substance use disorders (SUDs) have high rates of trauma and posttraumatic stress, many addiction programs do not offer trauma-specific treatments. One promising intervention is Pennebaker’s expressive writing, which involves daily, 20-minute writing sessions to facilitate disclosure of stressful experiences. In one study women in residential treatment completed a randomized clinical trial comparing expressive writing with control writing. An analysis was conducted to measure changes in psychological and physical distress. Analyses also examined immediate levels of negative affect following expressive writing. The results of the study showed that expressive writing participants showed greater reductions in posttraumatic symptom severity, depression, and anxiety scores, when compared with control writing participants. Although expressive writing participants showed increased negative affect immediately after each writing session, there were no differences in pre-writing negative affect scores between conditions the following day. By the final writing session, participants were able to write about traumatic/stressful events without having a spike in negative affect. The results of this study suggest that expressive writing may be a brief, safe, low-cost, adjunct to treatment for substance use disorders as a strategy for addressing posttraumatic distress in substance-abusing women
SUBSTANCE ABUSE, 35: 80–88, 2014 Expressive Writing as a Therapeutic Process for Drug-Dependent Women
Sarah Meshberg-Cohen, Dace Svikis and Thomas J. McMahon.
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