incredible-marketing Arrow

Trauma-Informed Writing: Expressive Healing Through Words

You may find it difficult to see a connection between your self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Low public mental health and trauma-related knowledge can make it difficult to recognize trauma in your life. Many people perceive trauma as a profoundly horrific event like war, sexual assault, and witnessing violence. Yet, there are a variety of less recognized or more subtle forms of trauma, like emotional neglect, too. Meanwhile, engaging in therapeutic modalities like writing can help you get to the roots of your distress.

As the National Council states in “How to Manage Trauma,” 223.4 million (70%) U.S. adults have experienced a traumatic event. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) notes that 6 out of every 100 (6%) of the U.S. population will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now you may question why some people develop PTSD and others do not. What has made recovering from trauma more difficult and self-destructive for you?

There are a variety of protective and risk factors that can contribute to PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. Yet, resiliency can play a major role in how you address and cope with traumatic events in your life. As Frontiers in Psychiatry notes, resilience is the active and dynamic ability to adapt and overcome traumatic or stressful experiences. Moreover, resilience also involves your ability to maintain a positive perspective on life.

With resiliency, you can accept change, maintain control, and be adaptive and flexible in response to challenges. Thus, resiliency has some protective factors that support more effective trauma healing. Some protective factors for resilience include high self-esteem, self-efficacy, adaptive coping skills, and a supportive social network. On the other hand, some of the risk factors for poor resiliency include low self-esteem, psychological challenges, and poor social support and coping. Thus, access to healthier coping strategies like writing can be vital to your long-term recovery.

At the Guest House, we recognize that traumatic experiences are difficult to discuss. Trauma can become deeply embedded in your psyche and manifest itself as mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD). When you are unable to recognize and process your trauma, it leaves you feeling stuck in a cycle of distress. Therefore, holistic care, like writing, can help you explore and express your thoughts and feelings safely.

However, you may wonder how the use of words can help you heal from trauma. How can writing help dismantle deeply ingrained self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns? It can be understandably difficult to imagine that writing can be a therapeutic tool. Therefore, deepening your understanding of writing therapy and therapeutic writing can give you insight into its benefits for lasting recovery.

What Is Writing Therapy?

According to the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, writing therapy (WT) is the process of self-discovery and self-expression. Through WT, you learn how to investigate your thoughts and feelings through the practice of writing. WT aims to promote and foster self-healing from internal and external challenges for personal growth. Through WT, you can gain deeper self-awareness and self-understanding of yourself and how you exist in the world.

The expressive and reflective nature of WT provides a flexible approach to treatment and recovery. You can engage in WT as a self-directed process and or with direct guidance from your clinician. Moreover, the holistic nature of WT can provide another means of healing from distress and other challenges. Thus, WT is often used in collaboration with traditional talk therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to address individual needs and experiences.

Together, talk therapies and modalities like WT can utilize talking and writing to actively engage with your innermost experiences. The goal of talking and writing in therapy is to organize, accept, and integrate the memories of your challenges. Furthermore, as a holistic therapy, WT can also be used on its own as a healthy coping tool for healing. One of the benefits of WT’s holistic nature is the diversity of techniques within the therapy. A variety of therapeutic writing techniques can be utilized to build a plan of care that matches you.

Types of Therapeutic Writing

The thought of writing may feel intimidating, especially if writing is not one of your strong suits. However, WT is not bound by a specific set of rules or requires you to write in a specific way. Expressive writing is a flexible therapeutic tool that can be molded to best support your specific needs and wants. Thus, WT or expressive writing can be done using a variety of different writing types. Some of the techniques you can use in therapeutic writing include creative writing, freewriting, poetry, journaling, and lyric writing.

Listed below are some of the specific techniques and writing activities you can engage with through WT:

  • James Pennebaker’s Paradigm of Expressive Writing: Focuses on putting your thoughts and feelings into writing
    • Involves openly acknowledging and accepting your emotions
    • Grants the ability to make causal links across your life events
    • Gives voice to difficult-to-reach feelings
    • Increases introspective capacity
    • Fosters meaningful stories from your experiences
  • Autobiographical writing: Evolves life narratives through writing to help provide purpose and integrity to your life
    • Curates life stories to make sense of your existence
    • Your sense of identity is a deep internalized story made up of various narrative elements
    • Through your narrative identities, you can reenact the past, be aware of the present, and build a future perspective
      • Constructs your self-identity by creating a written life story as well as:
      • Identifies significant personal changes and gives meaning to them
      • Fosters agency as you recognize that you are the author of your experiences
      • Integrates different experiences and analyze your life trail for continuity and change
  • Guided autobiography: Used to investigate the relationship between the continuity of your life story themes and personality changes
    • You describe the most important events of your life with specific life themes
      • Family
      • Death
      • Money
      • Aspirations
    • Helps you understand and appreciate your life stories
      • Increases self-esteem and optimism
  • CBT diary writing: Used to dismantle maladaptive thinking and behavior patterns
    • The diary is a tool for self-observation
    • Involves taking notes of automatic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors during stressful situations
      • Increases self-awareness
      • Strengthens cognitive restructuring of maladaptive coping patterns
  • Logotherapy: A word-based treatment that assumes that life has meaning even in adverse situations
    • Provides an opportunity to develop personal meaning in your existence
    • Utilizes journaling to find meaning in life-threatening events
    • Reframes negative experiences to find the positives
  • Positive psychotherapy: You write a positive personal presentation
    • Involves listing your positive characteristics and qualities
    • Describe specific times when you used your strengths
    • Fosters self-esteem and self-awareness of your strengths
    • Positive appraisal: Writing down resentments, bad memories, and negative events that still impact your life
      • Learning how to reframe past negative events
      • Finding the positive consequences for meaning and personal development in your life
    • Gift of time and positive legacy explore how you want your loved ones and future generations to remember you
      • You put into practice recognizing your positive characteristics and the positive aspects of your life
  • Other positive psychotherapy writing techniques:
    • Gratitude: Writing gratitude letters to individuals you have not sincerely thanked
      • Strengthens relationships
      • Increases social well-being
      • Gratitude journaling: Write three good things that happened during the day
        • Increase positive mood and well-being
          • Writing helps you see the positives in your experiences
        • Supports self-awareness of personal agency
          • You recognize your active role in making positive things happen
    • Forgiveness: Writing forgiveness letters about interpersonal conflicts
      • Decreases the effect of relational conflict
        • Increases insight into your relationship and conflicts
        • Transforms feelings of anger and bitterness into neutral or positive emotions
        • Self-forgiveness: Triggering self-empathy and letting go of negative beliefs about yourself
    • Wisdom: Utilizing specific narrative structures like storytelling and fairytales fosters feelings of wisdom
      • Fairytales allow you to look at your challenges from a narrative perspective
      • Fiction story structure allows you to view your life situations from a distance
        • Foster the ability to view your challenges from another perspective
        • Increases awareness of your values and attitudes
    • Hope: Writing about your best possible self: write about your goals and desires for the future
      • Improves self-regulation as you learn how to clarify and restructure your priorities
      • Provides insight into your motivations and values
      • Integration of life experiences to identify meaningful ones and develop a sense of control
      • Hope narratives: write about past experiences where you were able to achieve your goals
        • Helps remind you that hope is possible
      • Writing specific narratives about your future goals and building a specific path to reach your goals
        • Practicing hope-building techniques
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): You learn how to accept unchangeable things
    • Integrate different interventions like mindfulness to increase psychological flexibility
    • Fosters active coping strategies to address challenges
  • Digital technologies-based writing: Self-writing online creates a shared rather than private component
    • The process of self-revelation through blog writing and posting on different social media platforms

Looking at the variety of therapeutic writing techniques highlights the various ways writing can support mental wellness. Moreover, therapeutic writing showcases its ability to be used to address specific mental health disorders and other challenges. In particular, WT has been used effectively to address the impact of traumatic events on your well-being. Therefore, you can utilize writing to deepen your understanding of trauma in your life to heal.

Understanding Why Therapeutic Writing Is a Trauma-Specific Approach

As the Institute of Educational Services (IES) notes, taking a trauma-specific approach involves:

  • Understanding the impact of trauma
  • Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Integrating knowledge about trauma into every system, policy, and procedure
  • Avoiding re-traumatization

Thus, writing in treatment is designed to look at recovery as a whole-person process. With writing, you can make clear connections between the events of your life and their impact on your well-being. Through therapeutic writing, you can support recovery from mental health disorders and SUD. Some of the writing techniques and strategies that are used for therapeutic writing include:

  • Expressive writing: This writing involves the process of writing in first person and third person to explore trauma
    • Writing in the first and third person can alter the emotional tone of your life narrative
    • You write about traumatic experiences in the third person because it helps you feel safe and detached from the experience
      • Through expressive writing, you learn how to narrate your experiences in the first person
        • Reminds you that you are the protagonist of the trauma
        •  writing gives you a private and safe space to be completely honest and free in the content you express
  • Narrative exposure therapy (NET): A form of therapeutic writing for treating PTSD
    • You work with your clinician to establish a chronological narrative of your life to contextualize and find meaning in your experiences
      • The technique can focus on constructing a symbolic lifeline of stones and flowers that represent negative and positive experiences
        • Decreases avoidance of traumatic thoughts and feelings through exposure
        • Allows for the elaboration of experiences
        • Supports the development of hope and resilience
  • Written exposure therapy (WET): A form of therapeutic writing for treating PTSD
    • Commonly used to support veterans
    • Focuses on writing about traumatic experiences in detail while paying close attention to your thoughts and feelings during the event
      • When writing, you describe the “hot spots” when you felt the most emotional distress
        • Supports processing trauma
        • Reduces avoidance
        • Decreases fear symptoms
  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT): A form of therapeutic writing designed to treat PTSD and other disorders with intrusive symptoms
    • Focuses on educating you about PTSD and related thoughts and emotions
      • You write detailed accounts of traumatic experiences
      • Then at your next session, you read your writing and work to break down the patterns of avoidant thoughts and feelings
        • Expose and process traumatic memories
        • Decrease intrusive symptoms
        • Increase self-awareness
        • Able to identify and address unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs
  • Logotherapy: A form of therapeutic writing designed to treat PTSD, depression, and anxiety
    • Focuses on helping you find meaning in your life even when faced with trauma and hardships
      • Utilizes the three techniques: Deflection, paradoxical intention, and Socratic dialogue
        • Teaches how to express existential worries
        • Offers meaning in your experiences
        • Clarifies your values and goals
      • Exercises include writing your epitaph
        • You think and write about what people say in your memories
          • Clarifies your values and commitment to them
          • Helps you recognize what direction you want to take your life
          • The reframing and processing of existential fears associated with your experiences like death, evil, and trauma
  • ACT: A form of therapeutic writing designed to support chronic illnesses, depression, and anxiety
    • Utilizes the thought defusion mechanism to distance yourself from distressing thoughts and see them from a detached perspective
      • Helps you identify issues, accept them, and find a means to live with them
      • Increases psychological flexibility
      • Fosters a positive attitude
  • Interapy: A digital form of therapeutic writing used to treat PTSD
    • Focuses on using therapeutic writing for cognitive reappraisal and sharing details with loved ones

Looking at the various techniques of therapeutic writing highlights the impact writing can have on long-term well-being. With therapeutic writing, you have the space to address your challenges with traumatic experiences, SUD, and other mental health disorders.

The Benefits of Therapeutic Writing for Recovery

Access to holistic modalities like writing can be a vital tool for dismantling self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns. Not only is writing effective for treating mental health disorders like PTSD but SUD as well. Trauma and SUD are deeply intertwined with each other as self-defeating behaviors are often rooted in unaddressed trauma.

When distress caused by trauma is left unaddressed, you are at a greater risk of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. You are more likely to self-medicate with substances as a maladaptive coping strategy to suppress those distressing emotions. As the Substance Use and Addiction Journal notes, therapeutic writing, like expressive writing, can support emotional regulation and cognitive restructuring. With effective emotional regulation, you are better equipped to respond to stress and challenges in healthier ways. Therefore, therapeutic writing can give you the tools to replace maladaptive coping strategies with adaptive coping strategies.

Healing Trauma With Holistic Care at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we know self-defeating behaviors like mental health disorders and or SUD are often rooted in trauma. Therefore, therapeutic writing can be a powerful tool for self-awareness and self-understanding to dismantle unhealthy patterns. With increased self-understanding, you can recognize maladaptive patterns and process your distress to build resilience and heal.

Thus, we are committed to providing a holistic approach to care to treat you as a whole person. With holistic care and a wide range of therapeutic modalities, you can find the support you need for long-term healing. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all process, so you deserve access to individualized treatment. With a variety of therapeutic tools, you can build a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs for lasting recovery.

When the distress from trauma is left unaddressed, it increases your risk for poor mental health and unhealthy coping strategies like self-medicating with substances. However, with holistic therapies like therapeutic writing, you can gain more self-awareness to support building adaptive coping skills. With therapeutic writing, you learn how to express, understand, and process the impact of trauma on your well-being. Through increased self-awareness and self-understanding, you learn to recognize and reframe traumatic and stressful experiences to lead a fulfilling life not weighted down by trauma. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing holistic whole-person care with a variety of therapeutic modalities for long-term healing. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn how writing can support your recovery.