healing art and writing
what is healing art and writing

What is Writing That Heals?

James Pennebaker has been researching writing that heals since the early 90's. His book, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, notes that certain kinds of writing truly benefit our lives and health in positive ways. As Sharon Bray points out in A Healing Journey: Writing Together Through Breast Cancer, Pennebaker and his researchers concluded that writing "allows us to confront traumas and put them to rest. It allows them to heal." In other words, we tell the story, rather than the story telling us.

Pennebaker found that four particular conditions helped create writing that was healing:

  • A safe and supportive environment that encourages and allows any kind of writing (poems or stories) and includes:
  • Writing with as much sensory detail as possible (taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound);
  • Writing with feelings, both positive and negative;
  • Telling the "whole story," (that is, to tell the story with emotional and sensory detail from beginning to end until it feels complete, and hopefully, to read it aloud to someone).

In addition, two other aspects seemed important:

  • When writing is shared, feedback to the writer focuses only on the positive and specific aspects of the writing, and;
  • Writers continue to think about their writing, and continue to write about it. As one of Sharon's participants said, "Writing gets our feelings and experiences outside of ourselves, available for viewing, and in this way, helps promote self-understanding and perspective."
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