WRITING ABOUT FEELINGS HELPS EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL HEALING
Medical Tribune News Service
BY MITCH RUSTAD
February 24, 2000
The idea that writing down one's deep thoughts and feelings about stressful life events helps people heal both emotionally and physically is getting new attention and support.
Margie Davis, author of the forthcoming book, "The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors" (Element Books, April 2000), has launched the Web site, www.writingtoheal.com. The site discusses how through writing about one's experiences, people can gain insight and even improve their health. Davis is an instructor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston where she teaches the course, "Writing About Cancer."
"It's worked for me and for my students over the past seven years," said Davis. "The feedback I get from them is that this kind of writing, reflecting back on how events have changed their outlook on life, is a way of releasing pent up feelings that may not come out via talking or in support groups. When you write you have the chance to be with yourself and you'd be surprised what comes out through the pen."
The courses offered by Davis are based on the research of James W. Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, which has shown that writing deep thoughts and feelings about stressful events helps people heal both emotionally and physically.
After watching a close friend battle cancer, Davis wrote "The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors" to help cancer patients and survivors write expressively about their experience in the manner of the Pennebaker studies. Writing the book led Davis to expand her teaching of personal essays to helping people with cancer and their caregivers better cope with their situations.
"I have led writing sessions at Dana-Farber and I have taught at America Online for three years," said Davis, "with many cancer survivors and caregivers expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to write in a structured way by having topics assigned to them. But I wanted to reach a wider audience. Creating a Web site was the way to go."
Davis's newest course, "Writing for Families," takes advantage of the Internet by having members of a family located anywhere in the world (or in the same house) share their personal narratives on specific topics.
"Any number of family members, siblings, parents, grandparents or cousins can gain insight into their family dynamics by opening dialogue with people they love but don't speak with as often or as intimately as they would like," said Davis. "This course offers the possibility for making peace, dispelling family myths and misconceptions and beginning a habit of heartfelt communication."
Courses offered through the Web site include "Writing about Cancer" (six weeks at a cost of $25), "Writing for Personal Caregivers" (six weeks, $25), and "Writing for Families" (five sessions, $45).
The "Writing to Heal" Web site also offers free "buddy boards" to find people with similar interests in writing personal essays, writing about cancer and writing about caregiving, said Davis.
One mental health expert noted that writing and keeping a journal have long been used as tools to soothe the psyche.
"It's proven personally invaluable to many people," said Ellen K. Baker, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. "History has documented that people have comforted themselves via writing down their feelings and keeping a journal. We have all kinds of evidence, clinical and otherwise, that show the benefits."
(The Medical Tribune Web site is at http://www.medtrib.com)
c.2000 Medical Tribune News Service
This news story is not produced by the American Psychological Association and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the association.