Dominica McGowan: the benefits of expressive writing

Following from our recent article on how writing can help with the post-trauma healing process, Psychotherapist and Life Coach Dominica McGowan explains how expressive writing can help heal the body and the mind, and how writing, along with other art forms, can be vital to one’s recovery and understanding.

Brendan Cox recently spoke of how writing helped him process his trauma following the murder of his wife, Jo. He is not alone in finding this medium emotionally helpful (Nin, Sontag, Hemingway).

Expressive writing has a long history in psychotherapy (Perls, Freud, Jung) and is supported by research demonstrating its physical and emotional benefits (Pennebaker,1986). I first started journalling while training to be a psychotherapist thirty years ago and continue to this day.

So what is it about expressive writing that is so beneficial for psychological and physical wellbeing?

Physically it can reduce blood pressure, diffuse anger, boost the immune system, aid digestion, introduce calm and improve sleep.

Psychologically, journalling can identify and label our emotions and make sense of what we are doing and why. It can help express what is just out of reach of the verbal. Through writing down our thoughts and emotions we can gain new insight into a problem.

The process of writing is akin to skimming off surface awareness to allow for a new and deeper insight, keeping existing awareness safe in a sort of psychological cache to be recalled and compared then to now, there to here.

There is no hard and fast method to expressive writing. However, free flowing in the morning or last thing at night focusing on feelings, sensations and thoughts are a good place to start.

Expressive painting and clay shaping can also be helpful. More important is finding a medium to practice at a time and at a pace that works for you.

About Dominica: “I am a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and couple counsellor of many years. My greatest pleasure is helping people who are distressed find a more positive and fulfilling direction in life; it’s far too short to live in anxiety and fear. Talking and writing can certainly help. I subscribe to Dyer’s maxim, ”when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’ I also enjoy scribbling the odd short story with some very small success, learning Irish and, for some strange reason, have an avid interest in the body politic.” Twitter: @DominicaMcGowan

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