EXPRESSIVE WRITING / JOURNALLING:
PROCESS, REFLECTION & COMPLETION
Expressive writing in journals, diaries or on A3 pages or scrap paper, is suitable for young people who feel comfortable using this medium or who have some affinity with the verbal / linguistic intelligence. It includes writing down, and commenting on, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, sensations, dreams, hopes and plans. Writing can be used to enhance and record awareness of the body.
Expressive writing can support processing of issues about counselling and adjustment to the counsellor and counselling environment. Reflection and writing can help a client gain access to issues needing attention. Journal techniques can mix prose writing, sentences, phrases, words, sketches, mandalas, flow charts, mind-maps, collage and photographs.
Writing is an alive process. It can be used in three main ways:
- Process Writing - to process / release feelings,
- Reflective Writing - to review, ponder, reflect; and
- Completion Writing - as an integrative step, to support closure.
This modality involves finding the words and phrases that express our feelings, moods, reactions. The client keeps writing until the feeling is fully expressed. This can be a valuable step in processing troubling emotions. The writing is usually not kept as it is no longer important.
This is writing which explores feelings, memories, events and our responses to the world. Reflective writing includes expressing feelings and sensations after self-awareness exercises. Methods include:
- ways to overcome the "I can't write" beliefs, eg. using music and movement as a stimulus to start a flow of artistic expression;
- - writing about events: eg. drawing holidays, dramatic events,
- - using words and phrases as background to Symbol Work exercises.
Working on completion writing gives time for the body to recover and integrate after emotional experiences. This writing is usually produced as part of the integration phase after an expressive therapy activity and may be kept as a reminder of the experiences and for later review. It gives time for the unconscious to complete its expression via words, phrases and thoughts from within. It can be used for recording - eg. write a record of Sandplay or Symbol Work or write about a specific significant symbol that has been worked with. Completion writing may include creating a summary, a motto, a poem, forming a distillation of insights and possible plans for the future.
Progoff (1975) describes journals as being neutral, open-ended and not imposing any categories or interpretations onto the writer. They can play a role in "reconstructing a life". Emotional growth derives from using active techniques that enable an individual to "draw upon their inherent resources for becoming a whole person"; the person accumulates a 'tangible and factual validation' of their personal growth as it is taking place.
- Progoff, I. (1975). At a Journal Workshop.
New York: Dialogue House.
Oaklander (1978) considers writing as one of the most satisfying, valuable, effective tools there is for self-expression and self-discovery. She describes a number of ways to support clients in using words and writing to enhance their sense of inner strength.
She recommends completing sentences, writing about opposites, and invitations to longer essays that reflect desires, needs, inclinations and the feelings locked up inside.
- Oaklander, V. (1978). Windows to Our Children.
Utah: Real People Press.
Hunter (1999) describes the therapeutic use of writing, using it for:
- decision making
- relating to the environment
- examining life stages and
- as a way of diagnosing problems.
- Hunter, A. (1999). The Sanity Manual: The Therapeutic Uses of Writing.
New York: Kroshka Books.
Anderson and MacCurdy (2000) describe the use of writing in working through trauma. They outline their own survey of the fields of psychology, composition, trauma theory and neuroscience that lead to the use of writing in the classroom to produce both good writing and provide an experience of positive psychological benefits.
- Anderson, C. M. and MacCurdy, M. M. (Eds.) (2000). Writing and Healing - Toward an Informed Practice.
Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.