How to Write a New Life for Yourself:

Updated on 2nd Octoebr 2018

How to Write a New Life for Yourself: Narrative therapy and the writing solution

by Dr Jim Byrne

Daily journal writing can raise your personal awareness in a “nearly magical way”, as well as reducing the hectic pace of life and making it “more balanced and manageable”.

Writing Theapy book coverIn my book on expressive writing, I have included more than twenty exercises for dealing with a broad range of problems and goals.  The first two deal with daily planning and reflection.  The third deals with a start of the day system of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing.

I began using a daily journal somewhere in the mid-1990’s, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful help in digesting my day-to-day stresses and frustrations; generating solutions to my practical and emotional problems; and coming up with creative ideas for blogs, article, books, and business innovations.

However, I have noticed a recent resistance in myself to the writing of ‘stream of consciousness’ in my journal – which means, writing whatever comes into my head. Sometimes I do it.  And sometime I resist doing it.  I seem to prefer doing some of the more structured writing activities from my book; such as exercises designed to achieve a particular goal; or to manage my emotions; to plan my time; or to produce a particular piece of work-based writing.

On the other hand, Julia Cameron (in her book, ‘The Artist’s Way’) advocates stream of consciousness writing on a daily basis – every morning.  And this is mainly a form of open-ended, self-reflective writing, as opposed to specific goal-directed writing – (although goal setting and review can come out of it).

About six weeks ago, I was reading something by Dr Jim Loehr – in Timothy Ferriss’ book, ‘Tribe of Mentors’ (which Renata was reading at that time) – and I tripped over something which reminded me of the importance and value of self-reflective writing as such:

“The daily ritual of self-reflected writing has produced priceless personal insights in my life”, writes Loehr.  “For me, daily writing heightens my personal awareness in a nearly magical way.  I see, feel and experience things so much more vividly as a consequence of the writing.  The hectic pace of life becomes more balanced and manageable when I intentionally set aside time for self-reflection.  I am able to be more in the present in everything I do, and, for whatever reason, more accepting of my flaws”.

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Writing Theapy book coverI found this statement to be very motivating, and so I have been doing stream of consciousness writing every morning since that day; and it has paid huge dividends.  I have produced some wonderfully creative ideas; resolved some significant problems; and I discovered that my life was being strained by two psychological drivers, or insistent injunctions: “Hurry Up”, and “Be Perfect”.  Because of becoming aware of those drivers, I decided to work against them; to defuse them; and to rewire myself for a significantly less stressful life.  I now write an affirmation every morning that says I do not have to hurry up, and I do not have to be perfect, and this has had a hugely calming effect upon my life.

I also use some of my own exercises, from my book, How to Write a New Life for Yourself; and I and getting a lot of value from this daily journal-writing activity.

So, if you want to develop a cumulative collection of personal insights; creative ideas; personal growth gains; and greater self-acceptance; the thing to do is to make sure you write at least a couple of pages of ‘stream of consciousness’, or personal reflections, every morning, before the commencement of your working day.

Three pages would be even better; and this is a great way to process stressful life events; and to produce creative ideas; and to solve your practical and emotional problems.

This stream of consciousness process is just one of the more than 20 writing processes described in my book, How to Write a New Life for Yourself.  There is a writing process for most of your likely personal and professional development needs included in the main text.

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area: 

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

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Sushmita Oruganti (on LinkedIn): “Thank you for this (insight). It seemed to have come in at a time when I was feeling very “stuck” too in terms of my goals. I have everything planned out and know exactly what needs to be done, yet the feeling of stuckness seems unresolved. Reading your article reminded me that often my sessions, with my (counselling) supervisor, revolve around exploring the circumference of the problem. Sure we progress from one domain of the problem to the other, but still somehow reeling in circles without discovering the foundation of the issue. When I find myself feeling this way, I ask myself specific questions about the problem and write about it. This allows me to rant and discover the problem holistically. Somewhere in the written content I am able to unearth the main issue handicapping me. I then discuss this revelation with my supervisor and come up with strategies. I am glad (your) article came in right now because it serves as such a useful reminder on how I can tackle my current situation. Definitely a technique I will remember to use with my clients in the future (if it sits well with them). Thank you for this great read Dr Byrne.”

~~~

Writing Therapy or Expressive Writing:

Re-write your past experiences – and write about your current problems – in order to change your future life!

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2018

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“Your life is controlled by a story, based on childhood experiences, stored non-consciously, in the basement of your mind.  This story acts like a ‘hypnotic trance’, to keep you locked into an unhappy life pattern. Rewrite it, and you get a new life!”

Dr Jim Byrne, 2018

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Many individuals have used writing therapy – or expressive writing, or self-reflective writing – to transform their lives.  These individuals have been in all kinds of dreadfully problematical situations, from homelessness, through alcohol and drug addiction, to house-bound depression.  But they wrote about their problems, and transformed their lives in the process.  In this book, I summarise a dozen or more such cases of fundamental transformational breakthroughs in human experience, human existence, and quality of life.  In addition, I outline about 20 processes that you can use to solve your own problems.

Writing Theapy book coverOn this page, you will find helpful information about our book about ‘How to write a new life for yourself’.  This book has the potential to transform your life, at home and in work, or business or study; and to create a better future for you.

If you want to tackle the challenge of re-authoring your life, to ensure a better outcome, and you cannot afford lengthy and costly psychotherapy – (or you want to help others to process their experiences, by guiding their writing activities) – then you can take advantage of the fact that I have written a book of guidance on how you can ‘Write a New Life for Yourself’!  (All you need is a reasonable level of literacy, and a willingness to write about your self and your experiences, in the present and the past!)

This book was designed to help you to process your emotions, solve your problems, generate new creative ideas, and to improve your physical health and emotional wellbeing.

It can also be used by counsellors and therapists as an adjunct to face-to-face counselling and therapy.

A little way down this page, I cite examples of individuals whose lives were in a very serious mess, and who turned their lives around using writing therapy, or expressive writing.

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

~~~

“The daily ritual of self-reflected writing has produced priceless personal insights in my life”, writes Dr Jim Loehr.  “For me, daily writing heightens my personal awareness in a nearly magical way.  I see, feel and experience things so much more vividly as a consequence of the writing.  The hectic pace of life becomes more balanced and manageable when I intentionally set aside time for self-reflection.  I am able to be more in the present in everything I do, and, for whatever reason, more accepting of my flaws”.

Dr Jim Loehr. (Dr Jim Loehr is a world-renowned performance psychologist and author of 16 books including his most recent, The Only Way to Win. He also co-authored the national bestseller The Power of Full Engagement.)

~~~

drjim-counsellor9If you want to establish a strong anchor in life, and to avoid being washed into the turbulent seas of stress and unhappiness, you must learn to ‘think on paper’!

And you must learn to include perception and feeling into your attempts at ‘cogitation’.

Trying to ‘think in your head’ is rightly called rumination, and it tends to lead you into confusion and unhappiness.  Trying to clarify your life circumstances by writing about your perceptions, feelings and thoughts is much more effective.

The exercises which I present in this book are designed to provide a training ground for your apprenticeship in building a new life for yourself.

You will develop finer feelings, more accurate perceptions and a powerful capacity to act successfully in life; and to build a bridge into a better future.

You will learn to take more account of the emotional components of your mental life, which will make your mental processing altogether more effective than when you try to engage in ‘pure thinking’.

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

~~~

Ms Tai Marker: On LinkedIn, on 30th August 2018, commenting on a post about this book: “Your perspectives are so creative and fresh! I really enjoyed reading this post and I plan on reading this book (about writing therapy and expressive writing). Thank you so much for offering your very valuable knowledge to the world, you truly have a gift! Very inspiring!”

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Writing Theapy book coverHello and welcome to this page of information about our Writing Therapy book, which is getting a lot of attention on LinkedIn, and selling well on Amazon.

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If you knew that writing about your life would give you a better future, would you do it? Hopefully, your answer is ‘yes’! Well, the good news is that therapeutic writing is life transforming.

We can see how powerful writing is, as a form of therapy, by the following examples:

A former soldier, who lives out of a shopping trolley, and survives by sleeping rough on the streets of San Francisco, heals his wartime traumas by writing in a journal for a period of months.  (Mulligan, 1997).

A woman who is severely depressed, and stuck at home with a two-year-old child, cures her major depression by writing about previously denied emotional pain.  (Schiffman, 1972).

A college lecturer processes the stresses and strains of working in an unreasonably intense and high pressure teaching situation, for decades, by digesting her daily experiences in her journal.  (See Chapter 10).

A creative author writes about his childhood trauma, and converts it into a novel, while also learning to feel more secure and more loving and more fulfilled in his life. (See Chapter 4).

The creator of Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) was on social security, stuck at home with a young child, and suffering from severe depression, when she began to write her Harry Potter books.  She attributes her overcoming depression to this writing work.

A professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, turns to writing to overcome the pain of depression, and discovers that it not only improves his mood and emotions, but also his immune functioning (as scientifically measured!) – and this gave rise to the Pennebaker Method of writing therapy, which is discussed in Chapter 2, below. (See page 159 of Levy and Monte, 1997).

Another young mother, at home with young children, and feeling very depressed turns to writing.  She has been depressed all her life, from early childhood.  She gets a red-covered book, and writes her autobiography.  It comes out looking clear, and clean and indicative of a lovely life in a rural area of Epping Forrest, England.  But then she goes back and re-reads it, and she realizes “there is something else underneath this”.  And so she ‘digs that up’ in her writing, and that is how she discovers early childhood incest, and that tis how she heals her wounds and becomes a more whole, undepressed person.  And that give rise to the whole Gillie Bolton phenomenon of books and workshops on writing therapy in an expressive/exploratory tradition, as opposed to James Pennebaker’s scientific tradition.

An American film producer descends into alcoholism and drug addiction, which might have been related to writers’ block or career frustrations; but her scotch and cocaine habits resulted in psychosis and nervous breakdowns. She came to realize that drug abuse and writing could not co-exist, and so she stopped the drugs and alcohol, and focused on her writing.  This gave rise to her book, which has helped millions of people around the world to develop the habit of writing Morning Pages, as a spiritual path and writer-recovery program, which improves creativity, and also processes emotional distress which has been piling up in undigested form. (See Cameron, 2007).

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To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

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Writing Theapy book coverWhy is writing about your life and your problems – your past; your future; and your dreams – so very important?  Because of these facts:

“We humans are colonized by our mothers at birth, and develop our sense of self out of our dialectical interactions with her, and with our fathers; and later with siblings, peers, neighbours, other relatives, etc.  We create mental maps, or schemas and stories, about our cumulative, interpretative social experiences.  This process is unavoidable – it could not be otherwise – but the details of the stories we imbibe and create may often need to be reviewed when we are older, to see if we can develop more self-helping stories to guide our lives.

“We are story tellers in a sea of stories, as fish are aquatic beings in a sea of water.  The fish does not see the water and cannot swim beyond the limits of the body of water in which they are immersed; just as the human being does not see the sea of language in which we are immersed, and also cannot ‘swim’ (or think-feel-act) beyond our linguistic stories, schemas, scripts, frames, etc.”

Our lives are run – non-consciously – by the stories that are hard-wired into our brain-mind-body.  If we want a better life, we have to re-write those stories!

To learn how to re-wire yourself for a better life, please read this book – How to Write a New Life for Yourself – which is available from Amazon.

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

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Man and woman writing

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Audiences for this book

This book has been written with four broad audiences in mind:

Man-writing31. Self-help enthusiasts, who are defined as individuals who like to learn on their own; who are comfortable with the skill of writing; and who need to work through some unfinished business, from the recent or distant past; or to plan some way ahead, to resolve practical, emotional or relationship problems; or to improve their emotional self-management.

(Your journey begins at Chapter 1, once you’ve complete the Preface).

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Counselling-session82. Professional helpers (like counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, etc.) who want to know how to add some elements of writing therapy to their normal face-to-face work with clients.

(See Chapter 10 for detailed guidance).

~~~

Training-class33. Students of counselling psychology and psychotherapy, or related disciplines, who want to learn about the psychology of writing therapy; frame theory; autobiographical writing; and emotional self-management.

(Your journey begins at Chapter 3, and resumes at Chapter 1).

~~~

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Woman-writing-therapy4. And personal and professional development enthusiasts, who want to improve their own self-management skills, in terms of goals and values; problem solving; and effective thinking. This group is very broad, and includes teachers, medical doctors and nurses, managers, and other professional groups.

(Your journey begins with Chapter 7, and resumes at Chapter 1).

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General introduction (for non-counsellors)

drjim-counsellor1Are you in need of counselling or therapy to fix a problem of deep unhappiness, or stressful complications of your practical life?

Do you want to be able to manage your life better than you currently do?

If you can afford to see a counsellor or psychotherapist, or a lifestyle coach, face to face, then that is probably the best thing to do.

However, what if you cannot afford it?

Writing Therapy is the cheapest and most intensive system self-analysis or self-therapy.

It might also be the most efficient and deepest option available.  It certainly means you do not have to worry about revealing shameful or embarrassing facts to somebody else.  You can face up to your emotional pain, directly, or at one remove…

Part of the problem for humans, in terms of managing our emotional and practical lives is this: We are delusional beings.  We perceive ourselves to be conscious decision-making individuals.  But in fact we are largely non-conscious, socialized, habit-based beings, who repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Writing Theapy book coverTo put it bluntly: Humans are sleep-walking decision-machines which have been enrolled into a depowering story about ‘who they are’.  This tragedy occurred when they were too young to digest their social experience.  So they swallowed it whole, and they suffer from the consequences still.  Unless and until they regurgitate those chunks of undigested experience, and digest them fully, in the form of Adult-directed re-authoring of their (childhood and later) experience, they will never come into their full personal power in the real world!

If you want to tackle the challenge of re-authoring your life, and you cannot afford lengthy and costly psychotherapy – (or you want to help others to process their experiences, by guiding their writing activities) – then you can take advantage of the fact that I have written a book of guidance on how you can ‘Write a New Life for Yourself’!  (All you need is a reasonable level of literacy, and a willingness to write about your life!)

(For counsellor, coaches and psychotherapists, I have included a chapter on how to integrate writing therapy into a face-to-face counselling, coaching or psychotherapy service).

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

~~~

Feedback from LinkedIn, by Jodi Williamson Wells, MS: “This is wonderful, I completely agree! Writing/ journaling helps all the emotions and thoughts come out raw and real. I also go back at times and reflect on how I was, and where I am now. Journaling/writing also allows me to not forget things, as it is so easy to do with the rush of life. It reduces stress and anxiety in the moment, for me. Thank you for speaking on this! It’s a valuable tool that would help so many if we kept it private …. Oftentimes I see people vent/write on social media platforms where it should be directed to a more personal area and dealt with internally rather than plastered for all to see. Not all of our thoughts should be shared (publicly). That’s just my opinion. Again, thanks for sharing!” (24th May 2018).

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Updated on 3rd August 2018: On this page you will find several extracts from a new book on how to write a new life for yourself.  Plus lots of feedback from readers of this book and/or this page of information about the book.

This book introduces and explores a powerful system of writing therapy,

  • combined with a process of ‘re-framing‘ (or re-interpreting) difficult experiences (from the past, or in the present);
  • plus a detailed description of how to manage your emotions;
  • and guidelines for how to improve the way you manage your life for success and happiness. 

There is also a chapter on how to incorporate writing therapy into face-to-face counselling and psychotherapy. 

This book has been designed to be helpful to both self-help enthusiasts and professional counsellors and therapists. 

It contains more than twenty powerful writing therapy exercises to structure your thinking and writing activities in important areas of your life.

~~~

Book title:

How to Write a New Life for Yourself

by Dr Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Writing Theapy book coverWriting therapy is a hugely important tool to have in your tool-kit, whether you are a counsellor who wants to help clients to unearth problematic stories that are controlling their lives; or you are a person who values active self-management, like goal setting, problem solving, and processing your daily experiences.

I have used writing therapy for years; to manage my stress and time; to manage my relationships at home and at work; to resolve my emotional and practical problems; to improve my creativity; and just simply to chew through my daily experiences to make sense of them, and to file them away in a manner which would stop them building up into mental logjams.  (Of course I have also used meditation, diet and exercise, adequate sleep, calm relationships, and so on!)

drjim-counsellor1My own system of writing therapy is based on a fusion of Julia Cameron (Morning Pages), James Pennebaker (Reflective writing), Brian Tracy (Thinking on paper), and Gillie Bolton (Expressive writing).  I have also added in a system of re-framing of negative experiences, to make them more tolerable, and less emotionally distressing.  Plus information on how to manage anger, anxiety and depression, using diet, exercise, sleep, self-talk and other methods.  And there is a whole chapter on improving self-management; and another on how to incorporate writing therapy into face-to-face counselling.

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, on LinkedIn, on 11th May 2018:

Shaikh Raisuddin: “(To) Dr Jim Byrne, Your method is indeed revolutionary”.

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Edith Kaumbuthu
: “I like your method. Thanks for sharing”.

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Monique Schoeman: “At a (particular) stage (in my life) things were not going well at work, in terms of the work environment that I found myself in, and my own insecurities did not exactly help me differentiate between what is really my own role and what is actually other people’s issues impacting their behaviour towards me. At that stage, with my psychology background, I started writing every day, in the morning, before work, my ideas and expectations for the day – (trying to at least start positively) – and after work I wrote about the day in terms of what happened, how I interpreted it (and actively investigating if it was my behaviour that I should change, and when it was other people who tried to dump their emotional trash cans on me). Just earlier this week, I came across that notebook of mine and realised how much that actually helped me. Your article helped me to think about how I can implement it not only in my own life, but also my work as an Academic Advisor with a focus on success coaching and helping students set goals, etc.”

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Bruce Collins: “I believe no one should underestimate the effectiveness of writing/journal therapy. It can identify trends and themes that otherwise may go unnoticed, and stockpile ideas and events, little considered at the time to be important, and yet on reflection (perhaps years later) prove crucial to one’s personal story. I kept a ‘psychological’ journal for years… starting when I was in analysis, it proved a very important tool indeed, and then I wrote a book based on that record. I say to anyone… give it a try!”

~~~

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Now available from an Amazon outlet near you: 

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

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Updated on 3rd August 2018:

On this page you can now find the complete Preface; the complete 7 page Contents pages; plus extracts from Chapters 1-10.  This book is available at Amazon outlets, as listed in the matrix below; and it is already attracting buyers.  Here’s some feedback from an early buyer on LinkedIn:

Bill Stoner: “As a therapist who uses journaling (or journal writing) in my practice, I’ve ordered the book. Nice website, seems like you have put a lot of time into it”.

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PS on 3rd May:

Bill Kousoulas, M.S.: (On LinkedIn) “(I’ve) Been doing this (using writing therapy in face to face work) for over 20 years!”

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PS on 4th May:

Geraldine Clark: (On LinkedIn): “Writing therapy is one of the best ways for getting out everything that a person feels they can’t tell anyone else. I’m a prime example: When I was (stuck) in my addiction (phase), I wrote a ‘goodbye letter’ (in my journal) to my drug of choice (habit).”  And it worked!

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If you’ve come here knowing you want to buy this book, then here are the purchase links:

Now available from an Amazon outlet near you: 

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

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On the other hand, if you’ve come here to read the information about this book, then please read on:

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The E-CENT Narrative Therapy Series – Volume 1

 

How to Write a New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution

 

By

Jim Byrne DCoun

With

Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc(Hons)Psychol

Published by: The Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), Hebden Bridge, April 2018

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

 And here is the cover:


Draft cover jimnearfinal (2)


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Feedback on Social Media

Kaori Muramatsu (On a LinkedIn Group): “It is just great to know that (this book) is available also in Amazon Germany”.

Alesya Nedoshyvkina “I would love to read this book (about writing therapy)!”

Natasha C. (On a LinkedIn Group): “I will have a look at this (book on Writing Therapy); thanks and well done”.

Lola Duffy SCM-CCC, CGRS (On a LinkedIn Group): Commenting on this web page: “Being a huge fan of Pennebaker, I thoroughly enjoyed your (writing on this page) and your additions of writing to heal. Thank you so much! A wealth of information here”.

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Here is the first of seven Contents pages:

Contents page 1C-001

…contents pages are continued below…

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Trish Bowers: “Thank you Jim (for this page on Writing Therapy). I really believe in the power of writing. I frequently encourage my clients to keep personal journals and to write letters – (not to send) – to enable them to safely release their thoughts and feelings. Some clients choose to draw pictures and then write the story they wish to share. Writing is definitely a very powerful tool”. 

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POSTSCRIPT on 5th May:

Margo Kan: (On LinkedIn): “I have also found journal writing very valuable and quite meditative. Thank you for sharing your experience”.

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Esther Tauby: “(Your book is) Much appreciated Dr. Byrne. As a grief and loss counsellor, writing therapy has benefited many of my clients over the years, and has helped young children dealing with major losses.

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Dr Pynhun Pakma: “Thank you for the informative post sir”.

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Roberto Jimenez: “(What a) great tool!”

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Marion Driver M.Ed: “Thank you so much for sharing this, Dr. Byrne … A valuable tool indeed!”

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Author’s introduction: In this book, I provide you with a road-map which will support you in building a bridge into a better future for yourself.

I have used a more gradual approach than Julia Cameron.  I want to help you to begin with small steps; in an easy, simple way; and to slowly build up your ‘writing muscles’.

In the process, you will develop a great capacity to manage your thinking-feeling-perceiving more reasonably; in a more self-regulated fashion.  You will become more intuitive; more creative; and a more efficient and effective problem-solver.  You will be less troubled by stress and strain, and more likely to succeed in achieving whatever goals you want to pursue!

Good luck with your exciting journey!

To get your copy, in paperback or eBook format, please click the Amazon link that serves your geographical area: 

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Flycrates Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Buying from Singapore Amazon Japan

~~~

Feedback on this web page from LinkedIn:

Ralph Pifer “For those who are literate and thoughtful, this (writing therapy) approach can be of great value. There is something about organizing one’s thoughts in black and white that often times can bring a confrontation with the adequacy and/or inadequacy of our plans and actions”.

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Veena GROVER“Good Luck, (with the writing therapy book) Jim”.

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PS on 4th May:

Sandra Mtandabari CPsychol:(On LinkedIn): “I work with Trauma (sufferers) & writing (therapy) is an invaluable tool (in this work)!”

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Preface

Building a bridge into a better future

Dr James Pennebaker (1997)[i] writes:

“For the past decade, an increasing number of studies have demonstrated that when individuals write about emotional experiences, significant physical and mental health improvements follow …”

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We humans make sense of our lives by referring to our previous experiences of life. And we do that non-consciously, automatically, and via habit-based responses.

We interpret what happens to us on the basis of those previous experiences; which means we see new experiences through old, distorting lenses.  Some of those earlier experiences are ‘narrativized’ (or turned into stories), and some are non-narrativized (or left as gut feelings).

It is now widely accepted in psychology and social science that narratives and stories are central to how humans make sense of the world, and communicate with each other about their lives.  (Though some parts of our old experiences, as indicated above, remain non-narrativized).

Professor Theodore Sarbin was one of the main American theorists who raised objections to earlier forms of empirical psychology, and argued that ‘emotions are narrative emplotments’. (Sarbin, 1989, 2001).  We modify that by saying that there are ‘basic emotions’, which are innate, electro-chemical predispositions – but that those basic emotions are woven into ‘higher cognitive emotions’ through the socialization that we receive in our family of origin; our schooling; and our exposure to cultural conditioning through the mass media, peer pressure, and so on.

And much, though not all, of that socialization, is done through the medium of language or stories; or apprehended through the medium of language. (And the story that we am living right now is significantly impacted by how much sleep we got last night, and its quality; the food we ate for breakfast today; and whether or not we’ve been physically active over the recent past. And these influences are further complicated by the stressors we are experiencing in our lives today).

So socialized narratives and stories, and our personal variations, are woven into ‘who we are’, (electro-chemically, in long-term memory), and thus we can change ‘who we are being’ by changing our deep-narratives, through some effective forms of therapy.  (And the effectiveness of this therapy approach will also depend upon how well we manage our lifestyle, in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and so on).

Writing therapy is very well suited for this purpose, of working to change who we are being, based on our stored narratives; and there is lots of evidence of its effectiveness.

Man and woman writing

Feedback from LinkedIn readers on 4th May:

Dr. Satwant Singh: “(Written) Journaling is an excellent way to self-heal”.

~~~

Scott La Point, PsyD, CBIS: “Repeatedly calling up traumatic memories and re-consolidating them in a safe and reassuring context through journaling (or journal writing) is foundational to doing trauma work, and I appreciate your reminding us of the importance that writing can make in helping us deal with our own troubled pasts”.

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Anamika Dasgupta Sharma: “The increasing use of typing as opposed to handwriting is bit of a concern for most of us who believe in the therapeutic value of writing down one’s thoughts. In my youth coaching sessions, I insist that my clients write down their introspections (in their own handwriting). Unfailingly they come back with eye-opening experiences”.

~~~

In her work on therapeutic writing, Julia Cameron (1992) uses several metaphors and similes to try to communicate what her readers and students can gain from using her system of therapeutic writing.  The one I like the most is this:

Writing in your journal, about the trials and tribulations of your life, is like building a bridge into a better future for you!

And that is what I have set out to do in this book: To provide you with a roadmap which will support you in building a bridge into a better future for yourself.

I have used a more gradual approach than Julia Cameron.  I want to help you to begin with small steps; in an easy, simple way; and to slowly build up your ‘writing muscles’.

In the process, you will develop a great capacity to manage your thinking-feeling-perceiving more reasonably; in a more self-regulated fashion.  You will become more intuitive; more creative; and a more efficient and effective problem-solver.  You will be less troubled by stress and strain, and more likely to succeed in achieving whatever goals you want to pursue!

~~~

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~~~

Farahmand Firouzeh: (On LinkedIn, 4th May): “Very interesting (information about writing therapy). My mother is 88 and she is a Psychologist. For 30 years she writes her stories and memories”.

~~~

Feedback from LinkedIn: 7th May 2018

Sukanya Srinivas Ananth: “Great idea Jim. If my clients are inclined to write I always get them to write their autobiography. It’s cathartic for them and useful for me to understand their narrative”.

~~~

Mabel Radebe: “Very true. Writing is a valuable therapeutic tool”.

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Audiences for this book

This book has been written with four broad audiences in mind:

Man-writing31. Self-help enthusiasts, who are defined as individuals who like to learn on their own; who are comfortable with the skill of writing; and who need to work through some unfinished business, from the recent or distant past; or to plan some way ahead, to resolve practical, emotional or relationship problems; or to improve their emotional self-management.

(Your journey begins at Chapter 1, once you’ve complete this Preface).

~~~

Counselling-session82. Professional helpers (like counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, etc.) who want to know how to add some elements of writing therapy to their normal face-to-face work with clients.

(See Chapter 10 for detailed guidance).

~~~

Training-class33. Students of counselling psychology and psychotherapy, or related disciplines, who want to learn about the psychology of writing therapy; frame theory; autobiographical writing; and emotional self-management.

(Your journey begins at Chapter 3, and resumes at Chapter 1).

~~~

~~~

Woman-writing-therapy4. And personal and professional development enthusiasts, who want to improve their own self-management skills, in terms of goals and values; problem solving; and effective thinking. This group is very broad, and includes teachers, medical doctors and nurses, managers, and other professional groups.

(Your journey begins with Chapter 7, and resumes at Chapter 1).

~~~

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~~~

The relative merits of writing therapy and face-to-face counselling

Writing therapy has transformed many lives!  As also has face-to-face counselling and therapy. So, what are the relative merits of face-to-face counselling and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and writing therapy, on the other?

If you are struggling with emotional problems, it is normally best to see a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist, to get some help with your problems.  One of the reasons that this is important is that, having your emotional pain witnessed, and validated, by a healing person, is hugely therapeutic.

If you choose your counsellor wisely, they will act like a kind and supportive ‘mirror’ to reflect you and your life’s experiences in an empathic, kind and supportive way.  Depending on your background, this may be something that you have never experienced before; especially if you did not have ‘good enough’ parents.

A good therapist can help to re-parent you; to provide a form of ‘external emotional regulation’, or ‘affect regulation’ – which includes a soothing of your emotions; and verbal and non-verbal guidance on how to better manage your emotions in the future.

And many good therapists will help you to think-feel-perceive your life and its possibilities more realistically, more positively, and with more clarity and resilience.

However, it is obvious that many people cannot afford to resolve all of their psychological problems through the relatively expensive processes of counselling and psychotherapy.  Therefore, it may often be necessary to split your therapy between face-to-face assistance, and self-directed writing therapy.

This book can help you with the second of those forms of assistance: the writing out of your trials and tribulations, so that they can be clarified, digested, re-framed, and subjected to processes of problem solving, decision making, and – if successful – filing them away in non-active ‘memory files’ which no longer trouble you.  This has been shown, in scientific research, to resolve problems of depression and other emotional difficulties, and to improve immune functioning: (Levy and Monte, 1997: page 159).  And this book can also help counsellors and others to introduce their clients to this most helpful process of self-management and self-therapy.

~~~

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~~~ 

The likely concerns of counsellors and therapists regarding writing therapy

Some counsellors might be concerned that the promotion of writing therapy is a threat to their income from face-to-face work.  This is highly unlikely to ever be a significant problem.

It seems to me that counsellors have to accept that not all therapeutic work is now done on a face-to-face basis; that systems of do-it-yourself therapy have always been part of the psychotherapy movement; and it is highly unlikely that all forms of psychotherapy will be done in the future on a face-to-face basis, or even on a paid professional basis.  Some of it will be done on the basis of Do-It-Yourself writing therapy.

Neither should we see face-to-face counselling and writing therapy as antagonistic or mutually exclusive systems; because:

Firstly: There is no reason why most counsellors cannot use writing therapy for their own ‘routine maintenance’, or even for some of their ‘periodic counselling’ top-up needs. (See Chapter 10).

Secondly: It could be a great advantage, for the client and the counsellor, if many counsellors, from time to time, as appropriate, used writing therapy with some of their individual clients, to support and enhance their face-to-face work.  This can be done in-session, or as homework assignments.

Under what circumstances should we propose using writing therapy with a counselling client?

The following list of recommendations was presented by wright (2004):

  1. In time-limited, focused, brief therapy – some of the detail can be dealt with outside the therapy room, on paper in private.
  2. With people who have a self-directed tendency to write – journals, diaries, letters – and who have found the process of writing, especially autobiographical writing, (to be) cathartic and clarifying.
  3. With people who are or perceive themselves to be powerless.
  4. With people who are not using their first language in the face-to-face therapy – they are able to use their first language or a mixture of both first and host language.
  5. With people who, for cultural or other reasons, are silenced by shame and feel unable to speak.
  6. With people who are in inner turmoil and need to ‘unpack the mind’, externalise and organise their thoughts and feelings.
  7. With people who need to disclose and exorcise a particular memory of stressful or traumatic experience.
  8. With people at particular stages of life associated with experiencing strong feelings (e.g. adolescence or for the dying and those in hospice care).

~~~

Most systems of counselling and psychotherapy can be modified to include some elements of writing therapy, from time to time, and with particular clients, as appropriate.  (The one obvious exception to this rule is the Rogerian, non-directive, person-centred approach, which does not fit well with any kind of active intervention by the counsellor!)

This process of modification is discussed in detail in Chapter 10, in which we offer guidance to counsellors and psychotherapists regarding how and when to use writing therapy as an adjunct to their face-to-face work with their clients.

 ~~~

…Text interrupted to insert second Contents page…

Contents page 2C-002

Feedback on this page from a Facebook group: Clinical Psychology:

Pam Pam “This is actually great… Thank you for sharing with us. 🙂 I want to read this (writing therapy) book”.

Aneesa Leen “I am not a student but I would love to read your book. I need to make a new life…”

Laiba Janat “I want to read this book sir”.

~~~

 

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~~~

…Preface resumes…

More than just writing therapy

This book is also broader than writing therapy as such.

It also includes forms of guidance which could better be described as: writing for self-management; or writing for self-coaching.

Furthermore, it is obvious that people think-feel-perceive with their existing capabilities, based on their past experiences.

Therefore, to enhance and expand your potential for improving any aspect of your life, through the vehicle of writing, we have included some additional chapters.  These will help you:

(1) To understand your emotions and how to manage them;

(2) To learn about ideal goals and life values, which you can then adapt and modify to suit yourself;

(3) To understand your emotional needs; and:

(4) To learn how to re-frame difficult experiences so that they show up as being more easily accepted; and, as a consequence, you can think-feel-act more self-supportingly in relation to difficulties from your past.

~~~

This book has the potential to transform your life!

By using the writing strategies outlined in Chapters 2 and 3, below, you could write a new life for yourself; whether you are a counsellor or a counselling client; or neither; or both!

~~~

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~~~ 

Who has benefited from writing therapy?

“Expressive writing is a self-reflective tool with tremendous power.  By exploring emotional upheavals in our lives, we are forced to look inwards and examine who we are.  This occasional self-examination can serve as a life-course correction”.  Pennebaker and Evans (2014).

~~~

We can see how powerful writing is, as a form of therapy, by the following examples:

A former soldier, who lives out of a shopping trolley, and survives by sleeping rough on the streets of San Francisco, heals his wartime traumas by writing in a journal for a period of months.  (Mulligan, 1997).

A woman who is severely depressed, and stuck at home with a two-year-old child, cures her major depression by writing about previously denied emotional pain.  (Schiffman, 1972).

A college lecturer processes the stresses and strains of working in an unreasonably intense and high pressure teaching situation, for decades, by digesting her daily experiences in her journal.  (See Chapter 10).

A creative author writes about his childhood trauma, and converts it into a novel, while also learning to feel more secure and more loving and more fulfilled in his life. (See Chapter 4).

The creator of Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) was on social security, stuck at home with a young child, and suffering from severe depression, when she began to write her Harry Potter books.  She attributes her overcoming depression to this writing work.

A professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, turns to writing to overcome the pain of depression, and discovers that it not only improves his mood and emotions, but also his immune functioning (as scientifically measured!) – and this gave rise to the Pennebaker Method of writing therapy, which is discussed in Chapter 2, below. (See page 159 of Levy and Monte, 1997).

Another young mother, at home with young children, and feeling very depressed turns to writing.  She has been depressed all her life, from early childhood.  She gets a red-covered book, and writes her autobiography.  It comes out looking clear, and clean and indicative of a lovely life in a rural area of Epping Forrest, England.  But then she goes back and re-reads it, and she realizes “there is something else underneath this”.  And so she ‘digs that up’ in her writing, and that is how she discovers early childhood incest, and that tis how she heals her wounds and becomes a more whole, undepressed person.  And that give rise to the whole Gillie Bolton phenomenon of books and workshops on writing therapy in an expressive/exploratory tradition, as opposed to James Pennebaker’s scientific tradition.

An American film producer descends into alcoholism and drug addiction, which might have been related to writers’ block or career frustrations; but her scotch and cocaine habits resulted in psychosis and nervous breakdowns. She came to realize that drug abuse and writing could not co-exist, and so she stopped the drugs and alcohol, and focused on her writing.  This gave rise to her book, The Artist’s Way, which has helped millions of people around the world to develop the habit of writing Morning Pages, as a spiritual path and writer-recovery program, which improves creativity, and also processes emotional distress which has been piling up in undigested form. (See Cameron, 2007).

~~~

….Text interrupted to insert third Contents page…

Contents page 3C-003

Feedback about this web page from a reader on LinkedIn: 

James Nelson – Counsellor and Trainer: ‘Great article (web page), Jim. Completed my Masters thesis on therapeutic autobiography so this really “spoke” to me’.

~~~

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~~~

Preface resumes…

The ‘shopping cart soldier’ referred to above, who became a successful novelist as a result of his writing therapy, was not by any means an exception. As described by Gail Noppe-Brandon (2018):

“According to a study reported in the New York Times, (war) veterans found greater healing and resiliency through a narratological approach, that is, doing guided writing about their traumatic experiences, than they did via either medication or talk therapy alone”. (Page 24).

Of course, we have to clarify that, the reason war veterans may find they gain more from writing therapy than from face-to-face work, is most likely that

(1) their traumatic experiences have created greater than normal levels of interpersonal communication difficulties; and

(2) intrusive thoughts and frightening flash-backs can happen at any time, and it is easier to grab a pad and pen and write the fear out, than it is to wait for some days to see a face-to-face counsellor! (See Jennifer H., 2008)[1].

And, as Gillie Bolton says, it is very difficult to talk about ourselves.  Some of us find it easier than others; but some of the things we might need to talk about are very difficult to share with another human being.  So writing therapy, being totally private, allows us to surface things we might never be able to surface with another person.  (Bolton, 2018).

There have been many reports of dramatic improvements in a person’s life as a result of writing therapy.

To return to the case of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter books, there is a clear case for writing on a daily basis as self-therapy, as argued by Justin Bennett (2012):

“Writing and seeing her vision become reality was the turning point in her (J.K. Rowling’s) depression. Like Emma Thompson and Carrie Fisher, Rowling discovered the power of writing to beat depression. Not just writing a little bit, but building it as a daily discipline and seeing it through. Writing generates more structure in one’s life, countering the unstructured and chaotic lifestyle that mental health problems can produce. Secondly, writing also helps people get out of their head. Concentrating on the page and letting it all come out is healing, meditative and therapeutic. Writing interlinks the two brain hemispheres and encourages healthier brain function”. (Bennett, 2012).

Writing about emotional problems has been found, in scientific laboratory studies, to be at least as effective as face-to-face counselling and therapy. But very much cheaper and more easily accessed.  (Pennebaker, 1990, 1997, 2002; and Pennebaker and Evan, 2014). And, as argued in Chapter 10, it is best to see writing therapy as an adjunct to face-to-face counselling; with the provisos that some people will not be able to afford much, if any, face-to-face help, and they will rely entirely, or almost entirely, on writing therapy (plus perhaps family support, and good lifestyle management of diet, exercise, self-talk, relaxation, meditation, and other healing modalities).

~~~

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~~~

Feedback from LinkedIn, on 8th May 2018:

Asir Ajmal, PhD: “(This book) Sounds brilliant. (I) Will definitely look it up”.

~~~

DR Estelle Fuss: “I agree with you, Dr Byrne (about the power of writing to change your life). I find writing to my “confidant” (journal) capturing my thoughts and feelings as needed…. It started with my childhood diary, a present for my 6th birthday (don’t recall who from) A habit still ongoing today…”

~~~

Sonia Scarpante (OnLinkedIn): Sonia shares how she got a new life from writing therapy: “I talk of Therapeutic Writing because my start of a new life begins just from my autobiography: titled Lettere ad un interlocutore reale. My meaning (is that) through (this writing process) I’ve learnt many things about life. What has this autobiographical work taught me? I’ve learnt that ‘Writing’ is a powerful means, a fundamental help, for the ones who are looking for a better inside balance. I call it ‘Therapeutic’ because, with the continuous work of a repairing-writing, it turns out it can help us very much to recover from the most important sorrows; to cope with traumatic events; to dissolve our knots; to solve our emotional fragility. To defeat old guilt (feeling)s. Thanks to my writing, I have learnt to compare myself less (to others). I’ve learnt to consider my emotions and let them speak, without fear”. 

~~~

Preface resumes…

The ‘humanities’ approach to writing therapy, promoted and refined by Dr Gillie Bolton, also draws evidence from the cognitive/ scientific tradition to support their own work, as shown in this quotation from Wright, 2004:

“The beneficial effects of written emotional expression are … clearly and precisely recorded and have been subjected to meta-analysis (Smyth, 1998)[ii].  Reviews of core research on written emotional expression and health (Pennebaker, 1997; Esterling et al., 1999; Lepore and Smyth, 2002[iii]) suggest various benefits (see Lowe, 2004 for more detail).  Headlines such as ‘the pen is more powerful than the pill (Bower, 1999) have drawn popular attention to the efficacy of writing (as therapy)”.  (Wright, 2004).

~~~

Final caveat: Writing therapy can never be seen as a total replacement for face-to-face therapy, because there are some things that are better done in face-to-face work.  For example, in Affect Regulation and Attachment therapies, it is said that,

“What was once created in relationship (as in the family of origin), can only be adequately reformed or reshaped in relationship (such as a counselling or therapy relationship; or a particularly therapeutic love relationship)”.

~~~

…Text interrupted to insert fourth Contents page…

Contents page 4C-004

 

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~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 8th – 9th May:

Jane Dolby: “Yes, (I) found that (information about writing therapy) really helpful; thanks”.

~~~

Scott Alpert: “Jim, I have used a process called … ‘Self-Counselling’ for years. In it, the client is actually both client and counsellor. After learning (some) counselling skills (from us), they write this out and we as a staff make comments on it. I have had fantastic results with this approach and if interested can send you the EBook I created on it”.

~~~

Pierre Yorke: To Dr Jim Byrne … “This ‘tool’ was used by Marti Kirschenbaum / Paolo Alto in the training of family therapists in Sweden way back in the early 1970’s. Of course the method/techniques were not the same as yours but the fundamental theory is the same. Regards Pierre Y”.

~~~

Text continues…

Processing emotional experiences

In Pennebaker and Evans (2014) it is argued that traumatic experiences have long-term effects upon people if they keep it a secret; or they do not talk about it.  Getting it out, in talk therapy, or writing about it in a therapeutic way, helps to process it.  This makes sense in the context of the definition of a trauma as a ‘disrupted narrative’.

Rethinking the narrative or story of your painful experiences tends to clear them up and helps you to feel better, and indeed, to get better, physically and psychologically.

For these reasons, if you like writing, or feel you work well with writing as a medium of communication, you might like to experiment with ‘writing therapy’.

~~~

Why would you turn to writing therapy?

You could turn to writing therapy to resolve any problems you have with stress at work or at home; sadness or depression; a sense of ‘being stuck’ in your life; a need for creative thinking (or to overcome writer’s block); concerns or anxieties in general; to process and digest traumatic or distressing experiences from your past; or just to make sure you are managing your time and your life effectively, and to your own satisfaction.

In the process, you could write a new life script – or a revised narrative self – for yourself, and live from that instead of the less effective one you wrote in your head when you were a (largely non-conscious) child.

In this book, we set out to show you how you can quickly and easily process your current psychological problems, or difficult experiences, from the past or the present – and to improve your emotional intelligence and creative potential – by writing about your current and earlier difficulties.

~~~

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~~~

Feedback from LinkedIn on the Writing Therapy book; 10th – 11th May:

Andrea Walters: “Dear Dr Byrne, thanks for an informative post. I’m doing my Master’s in Visual Arts and find this approach very interesting. I have been keeping a dream journal and one focused on childhood memories. Kind Regards, Andrea Walters”

~~~

Georgina Wakefield: “I have written 5 published books. My writing has helped me more than any medication or counselling. I have suffered from bipolar and cared for my son who suffers from schizophrenia. Without writing I do not think I would be here…”. 

~~~

Hari Pal Singh Saini: “Thank you for the post. I was thinking of doing a similar exercise but (could not figure out) how to initiate and separate the main themes. Your post and comments of ANDREA WALTERS AND GEORGINA WAKEFIELD HAVE SHOWN THE WAY. THANKS TO YOU ALL”.

~~~

Joseph Ravick: “Thank you for a valuable article. I too have proven that writing/journaling therapy can be helpful. Wish you well”.

~~~

Writing to heal the body-brain-mind

Some pieces of writing have a healing or helping (or ‘therapeutic’) effect. A therapeutic narrative is clearly any kind of written or spoken narrative or story which promotes physical or mental healing.

Writing therapy, on the other hand, is any system of writing that is designed to promote psychological and physical wellbeing. 

Writing therapy is based on the insight that, when a person writes about their negative feelings from the past, including traumatic and stressful experiences, the result is an easing of physical and emotional pain, and a strengthening of their immune system: (Woolston, 2000).  The process of writing helps to change our existing ‘mental maps of reality’, also sometimes called ‘schemas’, so that we can experience life more positively and enjoyably[iv].

Woolston (2000) described the case of John Mulligan, the homeless Vietnam veteran (mentioned above), suffering from post-traumatic stress, and sleeping on the streets of San Francisco, living out of a shopping trolley.

Mulligan attended one workshop on writing therapy, took to writing out all his ‘psychological demons’, and persisted with this daily practice for a number of years.  This helped Mulligan to integrate his wartime horror story experiences in Vietnam, and he concluded that:

“Writing about stressful events can be powerfully therapeutic for mind and body”. (Page 1, Woolston, 2000).

In the process Mulligan rehabilitated himself, and went on to become a successful novelist[v].

~~~

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Feedback from LinkedIn on the Writing Therapy book; 10th – 11th May:

Panayiota Ryall: “My therapist got me to write a metaphorical story… “The Little Girl Who Lost Her Self”… I also illustrated it. It proved so helpful to not only my own therapy (adult survivor of severe child abuse), but for others in therapy also, that I ended up writing a whole lot more. I hope to have them published someday soon to help other therapists with their clients. Writing has been very therapeutic for me personally. Your book sounds great! All the best”.

~~~

Writing for self-management purposes

As already indicated, the writing system in this book is much broader than writing therapy.

It also includes elements of self-coaching and self-management.

Self-management means that a person sets goals for themselves; seeks wisdom for themselves; and tries to guide their life by the best knowledge and skill that they can find and/or create, or generate.  Self-coaching is an approach within self-management, in which you bring your will to bear on the pursuit of your goals.  You pep-talk yourself into doing what you say you are going to do.  You hold yourself to account for working intelligently towards your declared goals.

This is not an easy task, and in fact it is a lifelong journey of discovery; and trial and error; of making progress and slipping back, over and over again – on a generally ascending curve, if you work at it!  Long-term progress occurs, despite occasional short-term setbacks.

~~~

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Feedback from LinkedIn on the Writing Therapy book, on 11th – 12th may 2018 – Part 1

Kerrie Gaelen: “I use writing myself to help process my own stories, but notice it helps me process people’s (meaning clients’) stories differently outside of the therapy space. I always suggest clients write as needed between sessions and many have read through their writing during sessions to highlight something and many have spoken about finding this a useful exercise for off-loading, and for getting a clearer understanding of their life journeys”.

~~~

Dr.M..Rizwan Khan: “Writing about trauma or stress can improve psychological well-being and reduce stress. Putting upsetting experiences into words can be healthy. One drawback is that many patients experience higher levels of anxiety and negative mood directly after writing. Although those individuals experiencing negative affect still derive equal or even greater health benefits, the amount of negative emotions experienced during treatment may discourage individuals from continuing with their treatment, …. However, with severe head trauma patients experiencing aphasia, writing therapy has been beneficial in establishing effective therapeutic communication. (The following) (RESEARCH) STUDY Abstract supports the efficacy of writing therapy: Treating Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Structured Writing Therapy”.

~~~

Kendell Oesterle: “That (writing therapy) is the only thing I could handle at first (after my traumatic experience). Thanks for sharing!”

~~~

The benefits of writing therapy

Writing therapy allows the writer to digest old, unprocessed memories of difficult experiences, without having to risk sharing them with another person.  Writing tacks between the memories stored on the right side of the brain, and the narrative creating abilities of the left hemisphere.  Thus it can help to surface old material that has been buried out of sight for a long time, but which is causing emotional or physical problems from non-conscious levels of mind.  And in the process, we re-frame old decisions and interpretations, and make a new narrative which is more self-supporting and less distressing.

Writing therapy can also be helpful in processing the problems of the present moment, and creating well-thought-out plans for the future.

Perry (2012) describes a range of physical and emotional gains that people make who keep a diary in which they write about their lives. They need less medical attention; are admitted to hospital less; and spend less time there when they are. Their immune systems function better; and their liver function is improved. Also, their moods and emotional self-management improves.

According to Gail Noppe-Brandon (2018): “I feel that the work (of autobiographical writing) has been successful when clients are fluent in what they’ve lived, without shame—when they understand and can articulate how it affected them, and what they now want, and are able to speak what they want to others…”

For myself, I think the main benefit of writing therapy is the facilitation of a better, clearer, felt sense of where I come from, and where I am going; with clarity about what has happened in my life; but with the stings and soreness withdrawn from the older stories of my trials and tribulations: because they have been fully processed; understood; and re-framed.

~~~

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Feedback from LinkedIn on the Writing Therapy book, on 11th – 12th may 2018 – Part 2

Richard Rochfort: “I find writing to be a very good way of imparting my thoughts. Sometimes if I write I can disclose more of what I have to talk about than when I verbalize!!”

~~~

Brenda O. “Catharsis (or ‘emotional release’) is good! What would you say about this statement:’ ‘Writing therapy is for an adult what play therapy is for a child’?”

~~~

Jean Pearson: “Yes, so much agree that keeping a journal is a therapeutic tool for clients and a useful self-reflection exercise for therapists. Has anyone heard of ‘The Writer’s (Artist’s) Way’ by Julia Cameron, which advocates keeping a daily journal as a means to facilitate one’s own creativity? I can recommend this as a growth exercise”.

~~~

Mahalakshmi Rajagopal: “I too use writing therapy a lot”.

~~~

Mary Gitau: “A very helpful tool; (I’m) hoping more in the profession can embrace it…..It works so well especially for traumatic events”.

~~~

We are reminded by Bennett (2012) that: “(JK) Rowling wrote to combat her depression and conjured up one of the most loved fantasy landscapes of the past century. Other people who beat depression through writing are Carrie Fisher, Emma Thompson and Winston Churchill”.

~~~

Daniels and Feltham (2004)[vi] explored the effectiveness of journal writing as a form of personal therapy and personal development for trainee counsellors.

This is what they concluded about the effectiveness of this process:

“When asked about the benefits of journal writing itself, without comparison to other approaches to personal development, even though some trainees were sceptical to start with, all found great value in it, as demonstrated in the following quotations:

‘Seeing them (my feelings and thoughts) on paper also helps me to understand them’.

‘Looking back and seeing how I’ve grown (helps)’.

‘Reading back all of it was really beneficial, (and it) makes me realize how busy I am, etc.’

‘(It)… gives me personal satisfaction, without the need to necessarily prove myself to others by having work published or read by others for approval’.

‘It gives you the chance to have a rational debate with yourself, often enabling you to correctly put issues into focus, perhaps for the first time’.”

~~~

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 12th May 2018

Dr. Eulalee T.: “Thanks: (this post is) quite useful. I use writing with trauma clients; good to get further detail (from you) on how it can be used”.

~~~

Anita Sawyer Vasan: “Thank you Jim; I found whilst writing my own fictionalised autobiography, that it was incredibly cathartic; (and) also, when my very empathic editor made supportive comments. One particular event involving predatory abusive behaviour, that I had struggled with for years, was transformed by her (my editor’s) comment: ‘I experienced something similar too, and many women I know have’. I no longer felt alone and ashamed”.

~~~

And, as we saw earlier, when we looked at who has benefitted from writing therapy, the benefits that those people gained were: recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder; overcoming drug addiction, alcohol addiction, psychosis and nervous breakdown; processing childhood sexual abuse; and promoting creative thinking and improved self-management.

Daniels and Feltham (2004) continue like this:

“Few disadvantages (of writing therapy) were identified and these were concerned mainly with the lack of available feedback…”

Writing therapy can help to process feelings and sensations; images, thoughts, and body awareness; interpersonal issues; practical or technical problems; sexual difficulties or issues; socio-political issues; spiritual or existential problems or concerns; consideration of one’s potential for growth and development; self-esteem, or self-confidence; and so on.  (See Daniels and Feltham, 2004).

Dr James Pennebaker (1995, 1997, and 2002) has conducted rigorous scientific studies which demonstrate that effective writing therapy dramatically improves physical health and emotional well-being.

(See also: Pennebaker and Beall, 1986; and Pennebaker and Evans, 2014).

~~~

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, on LinkedIn, on 12th – 13th May 2018:

Eva Wong: “I too use a lot of this (writing therapy) in my counselling for custodial inmates. Many find this writing therapy useful, especially when they don’t get to be seen (by a counsellor) so often ([because] we are very short staffed)…”

~~~

Idris Enoch Sasaka: “Very Insightful (book description)”.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 16th – 17th May 2018:

Fiyinfunjah Dosumu: “This (book) is really insightful”.

~~~

Jessica Cline, LCSW: “As a therapist based completely online, both through text and video, this book looks like it would be a great benefit especially with my text based clients. Looking forward to (reading it)”.

~~~

…Text continues…

Writing therapy is not for everybody, of course.

A sense of ease with the skill of writing is obviously a prerequisite.

It is particularly helpful for certain groups; men benefit more than women, although women do benefit from it; and it is not normally recommended for individuals who have PTSD, who may have no coping resources.

However, please note that it worked well for John Mulligan, the shopping cart soldier; and for Gillie Bolton.

It is also not normally recommended for people with major depression, who might be better advised to get help in a face-to-face context. But it worked well for Muriel Schiffman (1972), and Gillie Bolton (2018) – the depressed mothers described above.

But for most people, male and female, across a wide spectrum of degrees of emotional intelligence and emotional stability, writing therapy – and/or self-coaching through writing – and/or self-management through writing – are very powerful ways of:

– processing difficult experiences,

– solving old and new problems,

– and planning one’s journey through life, via reflective thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and creative and critical thinking, on paper.

If you can combine writing therapy with professional help from a range of counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, lifestyle coaches, nutritionists, personal trainers, and various medical specialists, then all the better.

But we have to recognize that many people will not be able to afford much of these kinds of expensive services, and will have to rely, in part or in whole, upon their do-it-yourself forms of therapy, including therapeutic writing.

~~~

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Hebden Bridge, April 2018

~~~

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[1] Jennifer H. (2008) 360 Degree Healing: Release through writing.  Online blog about the family life of an American war veteran.  Available: http://familyofavet.com/PTSD_ alternative_ treatments_ writing.html.  Accessed: 14th April 2018.

[i] Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.  Psychological Science, 8(3):  162.

[ii] Smyth, J.M. (1998) Written emotional expression: effect size, outcome types, and moderating variables.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(1): 174-184.

[iii] Lepore, S.J. and Smyth, J.M. (eds) (2002) The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

[iv] Woolston, C. (2000) Writing for therapy helps ease effects of trauma.  CNN.com news.  Available online: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/health/03/16/health.writing.wmd/.  Accessed: 12th April 2010.

[v] Mulligan, J. (1997) Shopping Cart Soldiers. New York: Scribner/Simon & Schuster.  (Paperback novel).

[vi] Daniels, J. and Feltham, C. (2004) Reflective and therapeutic writing in counsellor training.  In: Bolton, G., Howlett, S., Lago, C. and Wright, J.K. (eds.) Writing Cures: an introductory handbook of writing in counselling and therapy.  Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 13th – 14th May:

Gerald Kaggwa: “In Narrative therapy, I always ask clients to prepare themselves in writing about their experience, and (to) share (their writing) with me. This helps them to remember and argue against their bad experiences”.

~~~

Tina Rea: “What a great idea. Usually I journal after meditation. There are many thoughts and ideas that are lost in the lapse of time. Tomorrow I will try this new approach (described by Jim). Thank you”.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 16th – 17th May 2018:

Fiyinfunjah Dosumu: “This (book) is really insightful”.

~~~

Jessica Cline, LCSW: “As a therapist based completely online, both through text and video, this book looks like it would be a great benefit especially with my text based clients. Looking forward to (reading it)”.

~~~

Text Interrupted to insert the fifth Contents page…

Contents page 5C-005

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 17th – 18th May 2018:

Dr. Satwant Singh: “Narrative therapy is a powerful empowering tool to aid recovery from our issues”.

~~~

Dr Deborah Kingston: “I think writing can be so revealing and can allow thoughts that could be difficult to talk about to be seen without judgement of what others think. It can feel more compassionate”.

~~~

Heidi Prosserman: “I did the same thing” – as Jim Byrne, in writing my own life story – “many years ago when I was going through a difficult time. I wrote all about my past and I included my poetry from when I was a child as well as some excerpts from my childhood journals. It is well over 100 pages and I have yet to publish it. Thank you for sharing! Warm Regards, Heidi”.

~~~

…Text continues…

Brief extract from Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: Introduction

Reflecting on your thoughts, feelings and experiences proves to be very effective in bringing about positive changes.  According to Perry (2012), reporting on a particular research project:

“Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement, also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.”

~~~

The socialized and narrativized nature of human life

It was Plato who argued that “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  However, we believe that this statement needs to be modified as follows: If your life is not working for you, then you may need to examine why it is going wrong.

But if your life is working for you, and you are not being immoral or criminal in your lifestyle, then by all means stay asleep! It will do you no harm, as that is actually the normal human condition!

We humans are largely non-conscious creatures of habit, who are shaped by our early socialization; and this has an up-side and a down-side.

The up-side is that this is the way we socialize our children, and make them moral citizens – if we are ourselves moral.  And this is also the way we cohere as communities of belief.

The down-side, in general, is this: If you come from a bad family, (from [materially] upper, [materially] middle or [materially] lower social classes) who failed to socialize you into being pro-social, moral, and productive, then you will live a miserable, destructive life.

And more to the point in our present context: If your family of origin was not emotionally intelligent, and you have not had any remedial experiences, then you will lack the emotional intelligence to have a happy, socially connected life.

Our system of emotive-cognitive therapy, described in this book, is called Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).  It subscribes to the idea that the disclosure of emotionally difficult material is central to the curative effects of therapeutic writing.

Our inference is that the process of getting in touch with previously undigested emotional experiences has the effect of ‘completing them’; or finishing them off; making sense of them; reinterpreting them; allowing them to be; and thus integrating them into the client’s (or writer’s) set of stable, functional mental ‘schemas’ (or maps of the world) [1].

However, before this can happen, there is often the difficult problem of integrating two conflicting schemas – or two narratives or maps into one – or displacing a negative, dominant narrative with a new, alternative and liberating one.  Jordaan and Nolte (2010) summarize this process very neatly when they say: “(Narrative therapy) is the re-establishment of personal agency from the oppression of external problems and the dominant stories of larger systems (Corey 2005).  Therapy occurs when the dominant narrative is effectively challenged by an alternative narrative; if the dominant narrative is not challenged and dealt with accordingly, there can be no therapy”.

Another way of seeing this process is to say that, a therapeutic effect is achieved when the writer is able to re-interpret, or re-frame, a previously difficult feeling, thought, experience; and to create a more self-supporting or empowering meaning for the feeling, or thought, or experience.

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 22nd May 2018:

Angie Clarke SPN-(LION): “You are so right Dr Jim Byrne (about the importance of counselling clients writing about their therapy journey), as different aspects of a client’s problem may come to mind every day. It would be so useful for a client to make notes about them to help towards their full recovery”.

~~~

Bradley Good: “I could not agree more (about the importance of writing therapy for good mental health). Here is an example of writing therapy, along the lines of ‘An Unquiet Mind’ and ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’. The difference here is that this is one of the first subjective experiences (of emotional stress and strain, leading to breakdown) written by a male” (as the central character). 

~~~

Eleanor Avinor, PhD: “I am enjoying this conversation very much as I always have my clients keep a therapy notebook in which they write homework and dreams; tables of events in their lives; what happened and how they felt and what they could have done differently”.

~~~

Lourdes Villena Amoloria: “(Therapeutic) writing … helped me to live with chronic grief; (to) gather strength to have a career change; and also led to publication of my first book, (based on my experience of writing therapy). (It’s a) best seller book on Amazon. Thank you for writing your book, it will surely help (counselling) clients, educators, therapists, (and indeed) anyone”.

~~~

…Text interrupted to insert the sixth Contents page…

Contents page 6C-006

…Text continued…

Extract from Chapter 1 continues…

The power of writing therapy

In this book, we set out to show you how you can quickly and easily process your current psychological problems, and improve your emotional intelligence, by writing about your current and historic difficulties.  (Chapter 8 contains a detailed introduction to the subject of how to understand and manage your emotions).

This approach to writing about your emotional difficulties in order to resolve them has a long and noble tradition.  Many nineteenth century poets were seeking to heal broken hearts or resolve personal dissatisfactions by the use of their poetry writing activities; and many novels are clearly forms of catharsis (or release of pent up emotions) by the author.

But not all writing is equally helpful, therapeutically speaking.  If the writing is too negative; or too pessimistic; or simply makes the reader feel raw and vulnerable, then it is not going to have a positive effect.  Later we will show you how to tackle therapeutic writing, (within the two main disciplines of writing therapy – [the scientific and the humanistic]), in order to make it maximally effective.  But the main clue is this: the writer has to be seeking the meaning of their experiences, and attempting to discover a revised way to understand that meaning; in order for improved emotional functioning (and indeed better physical health) to result.

It is not only okay to feel painful emotions, but necessary to digest our old, denied emotional pains, in order for them to be defused and rendered inactive.  But instead of indulging them, what we have to do is to name them; understand their source and significance; and to re-frame them, so they show up differently, with a new significance or meaning. (See Chapters 5 and 6).

…End of extract…

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~~~

[1] I have previously defined ‘schemas’ as ‘packets of information’; or maps and models that allow us to know how to perceive and act within specific types of contexts; such as eating in a restaurant as opposed to a quick visit to a ‘greasy spoon’ café.  Or how to speak in the presence of a respected female as opposed to ‘mucking around with the boys’.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 27th May 2018:

Maam Cristy Galang: “Thank you for sharing (your insights into how to use writing therapy as homework for face-to-face counselling clients). This will be very helpful in my practice”.

~~~

HELENE MESSINESI PORTRAT: “I’m completely ok with this (use of writing therapy as an adjunct to face-to-face therapy). I’ve used writing within the therapy (sessions) of a young girl, from (the age of) fifteen to seventeen. She used to write a long text before each of our meetings, and she never did any more attempts (at) suicide. She also cured her eating disorders; but not everybody can do it; she had a strong gift for writing which I think helped her to take a certain distance from her emotions, and helped her to recognize them and cope with them”.

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 2:

Chapter 2: Quick Guidelines for Doing Your Own Writing Therapy

Prelude

“In my experience of many decades, writing accelerates the time it takes to get someone unstuck by about fifty percent.  Writing author-izes (counselling and therapy) clients: it introduces them to themselves, while also teaching a self-regulating and self-understanding skill”.  (Noppe-Brandon, 2018).

Keeping a diary, or a journal, or writing on a regular basis, has been shown in scientific studies to be good for your physical health and your emotional well-being: (Esterling, L’Abate, Murray, and Pennebaker, 1999; and Pennebaker, 2002). It is also important for creative thinking (Cameron, 1992); and for reflective thinking in business and professional self-management (Tracy, 2004).

As Pollard (2002) writes:

“Although there is a gulf of difference between the two, therapeutic writing can also unlock creative writing. Whitbread and Orange prize-shortlisted novelist Jill Dawson has kept a journal since she was nine. ‘It has helped me personally and also made me a better writer,’ she says, ‘because going over and over something eventually makes it clearer. A dream you don’t understand may make sense two years later. Obviously, it undergoes radical transformation before it becomes writing that you would want published, but it is a part of the process. You can find feelings by writing in this raw way that you can then explore using different events in a story.’”

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 1st-2nd June 2018:

Dr. Alice Aloysius: “Thank You so much for sharing (information about the content of your Writing Therapy book). It’s very helpful”.

~~~

Ursula Daly: “Thank you Dr Jim (for your information about Writing therapy). I find writing a great tool”.

~~~

Marie Dorrington: “Thanks again for the brilliant writing tools you (have posted here)”.

~~~

Khairani Hamid: “Thank you for sharing (this information about Writing Therapy). It will be helpful in my practice”.

~~~

In this chapter, we will take a look at some practical strategies for managing stress, processing emotional experiences and solving problems, using writing therapy (Pennebaker and Evans, 2014); and ‘thinking on paper’ (Tracy, 2004: 157). My intention is to get you experimenting with writing therapy, or reflective writing, sooner rather than later.

If you are suffering from anger, anxiety or panic, or a general feeling of being pressured beyond endurance, then this section should be helpful for you (provided you also study Chapter 8, below).  You might also have practical problems, at home, at work, or in education or training, which are seriously concerning you; and you need to find a solution. Or you might want to improve your creative thinking; or your emotional intelligence; so you can manage your life better.

This book could also be helpful for counsellors, psychotherapists, and others who help individuals who are emotionally upset, by showing those helpers how their clients could use journal writing as an adjunct to the assistance that they (the counsellor) is currently providing to them.

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...Text interrupted to insert the seventh and final Contents page…

Contents page 7C-007

…Extract from Chapter 2 continues…

2.1 Introduction

Although this book can be used by individuals who need to reduce their stress or process emotional experiences, plus those who might want to help them (such as their counsellor) to get involved in therapeutic writing, I will write the text as if it was only going to be read by the former group: the self-help enthusiasts.  This will simplify my presentation to the main target group, without taking anything away from the needs of those (like counsellors) who want to use these ideas with their own clients.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, on LinkedIn, on 9th June 2018:

Natalie Botero, MA:  “Awesome Jim! I really appreciate this post. I do the same thing (by integrating writing therapy with my face-to-face counselling work) and have seen amazing things happen for me and my clients in the process. Even wrote books of poetry and prose out of the process. The very surprise that Julia Cameron talks about (i.e. improvements to creative thinking)! I noticed taking notes for clients helped even my ability to listen more in tune. I also have had (my) writing manifest the dreams I set out to achieve, and (thereby) learned the process of manifestation. Great! Thanks again. May I pass this along? Blessings! Natalie Botero, MA…”

~~~

Sara Guedes: “I do find writing is an excellent way for us and our clients to express feelings and re-construct the meaning of our life history. Thanks to your examples!”

~~~

Tamaiiko Singleton: “I know how powerful writing your thoughts down daily can be, whether it’s reflecting back on the day, or certain events that have occurred in one’s life. Thank you for the information, I appreciate it!”

~~~

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Whether you are struggling with problems of anger, anxiety or panic, depression, stress, or difficult practical problems, you could benefit from writing out your difficulties, so you can see them on paper.

This is different from the normal approach of seeing a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist.  However, if your problems are severe, it might be better to see a professional helper face-to-face at first, and later to add in the process of writing about your feelings and your practical problems.  And if you are seriously depressed it might not be a good idea to use writing therapy, as it might make your symptoms worse.  (This is not inevitable, and some depressed individuals have used writing therapy to cure themselves [for example, Schiffman, 1972]; but there is a risk, especially if you only focus on writing negative words and ideas).

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to think that writing therapy (as in journal writing, for example) can only be used in mild to moderate disturbances.  There is a famous case of an American war veteran (a returnee from Vietnam War), who was extremely ‘shell-shocked’ – or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – to such a degree that he could not fit back into society.  He wandered the streets of San Francisco, with his possessions in a shopping trolley, until one day he accidentally found himself outside of a building in which a writing therapy course was going on.  He went in, learned a simple system for keeping a therapeutic journal, and from that day onwards he kept a journal, in which he exorcized all his ‘war demons’ – and found his way back into a normal life! And to a career as a novelist. (Mulligan, 1997).

So, obviously, writing therapy can be as potent as face-to-face therapy, and some theorists have claimed that it is even more potent! (Wiseman, 2009). But please note the points I made in the Preface.  Certain things that we gain from having our emotional pain witnessed cannot be replicated in writing therapy; and it is easier to be re-parented by a therapist than it is to learn over time how to re-parent ourselves.

~~~

So what does writing therapy consist of? The quick answer could be expressed in any of the following three ways: …

…End of extract…

~~~

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, posted here on 15th June 2018:

Lynne Foote: Commenting on Jim Byrne’s post about how writing in a journal about difficult past experiences past can help to ‘clear them up’, emotionally, Lynne wrote: “So true. Thank you. Helpful for all ages. Sometimes I ask children to keep a drawing / picture journal (depending on age). Useful and powerful”.

~~~

Vanessa Burchfield, MBA: Commenting on my post about how to use writing therapy as a form of problem solving when you are completely stuck, Vanessa wrote: “Always such good reads, Thank you!”

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 3:

Chapter 3: Therapeutic Narratives and Writing Therapy: The two main traditions and the E-CENT approach

Prelude

Pennebaker (1997)[i] says:

“For the past decade, an increasing number of studies have demonstrated that when individuals write about emotional experiences, significant physical and mental health improvements follow …”

~~~

In this chapter, we begin by identifying a major problem for humans.  We are born into families within communities, and those groups speak a language and promote a discourse, or conversation, about the nature of life, and our place and role in that world.  We are thus dominated from childhood by narratives and stories that are not our own, in the sense of being consciously chosen or designed by us, individually, to promote our own interests.

This situation has both strengths and weaknesses, or good and bad aspects.  The strength or goodness of this situation is that this is how we develop and disseminate an agreed social morality, which is essential for the wellbeing of the family and community.  The weakness or badness of this situation is that racist, sexist and classist elements (or other unreasonable or immoral restraining elements) are normally built into those stories which we imbibe with our mother’s milk.  Thus the possibilities for the development of our potential are normally constrained by the social status accorded to us in the story into which we are enrolled in early childhood.

Furthermore, we run the risk of buying into later stories, from subcultures, and elements of the mass media, which will further oppress and distort us.

This chapter may be of interest to all readers, but perhaps more so to the professional helpers – like counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, and others – who want to introduce their clients to writing therapy.

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Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 18th-19th of June 2018:

I (Jim) had posted a description of how I recently used writing therapy to resolve some of my own problems. And then I got these responses:

Sushmita Oruganti: “Thank you for this (insight). It seemed to have come in at a time when I was feeling very “stuck” too in terms of my goals. I have everything planned out and know exactly what needs to be done, yet the feeling of stuckness seems unresolved. Reading your article reminded me that often my sessions, with my (counselling) supervisor, revolve around exploring the circumference of the problem. Sure we progress from one domain of the problem to the other, but still somehow reeling in circles without discovering the foundation of the issue. When I find myself feeling this way, I ask myself specific questions about the problem and write about it. This allows me to rant and discover the problem holistically. Somewhere in the written content I am able to unearth the main issue handicapping me. I then discuss this revelation with my supervisor and come up with strategies. I am glad (your) article came in right now because it serves as such a useful reminder on how I can tackle my current situation. Definitely a technique I will remember to use with my clients in the future (if it sits well with them). Thank you for this great read Dr Byrne.”

~~~

Michael Fenichel: “Hi Jim. This was/is a subject near and dear to me. (Once wrote a paper on the ‘myths of online therapy’ which addressed both the power of connection via words, and the limitations, like the need to have a ‘therapeutic frame’, etc). 

“Your post caught my attention with (this): ‘It would be a mistake to see face-to-face counselling and therapy as being challenged or threatened by writing therapy.’

“I can relate to that. We used Shakespeare as an example of how powerful words can be as text, and as far as challenging anyone’s ‘turf’ or minimizing the power of therapies which involve writing beyond the couch….

“I don’t think anyone who is competent and practicing within their professional boundaries should feel badly about therapists/ counsellors who may be engaging and seeing some successes by using writing – be it journals, text sessions, or whatever. I have deep respect for some art therapists I met post 9/11 working with severe trauma, when words were not the way. Other times they are an anchor”.

~~~

3.1 Humans as storytellers

We humans are colonized by our mothers at birth, and develop our sense of self out of our dialectical interactions with her, and with our fathers; and later with siblings, peers, neighbours, other relatives, etc.  We create mental maps, or schemas and stories, about our cumulative, interpretative social experiences.  This process is unavoidable – it could not be otherwise – but the details of the stories we imbibe and create may often need to be reviewed when we are older, to see if we can develop more self-helping stories to guide our lives.

We are story tellers in a sea of stories, as fish are aquatic beings in a sea of water.  The fish does not see the water and cannot swim beyond the limits of the body of water in which they are immersed; just as the human being does not see the sea of language in which we are immersed, and also cannot ‘swim’ (or think-feel-act) beyond our linguistic stories, schemas, scripts, frames, etc.

But our stories are not just left-brained, linguistic, cool-cognitive narratives.  They are emotionally significant and meaningful representations of some aspect of our felt experience of interacting with our social and physical environment.  They involve thinking-feeling-perceiving-acting components.  And they are socially shaped, and/or modified by social experience.

Some of the (non-conscious) narratives that control our lives induce misery and mental suffering, and some are healing and therapeutic; while still others help us to know how to be good citizens and moral individuals.

Individuals may need to explore and resolve many issues from the past, and this can be done in the form of spoken narratives with a therapist, or written narratives as ‘homework activity’ outside of counselling sessions; or even as self-directed narrative writing.

There is a range of options for the structure of therapeutic writing activities.

One possibility could involve an individual in writing for 3-5 minutes, about a problem that is bothering them.  Then they might edit their work, for 15-20 minutes.  In the process they could look for causal links between events; and reflect on their own role in the creation of the problem.  They would also be well advised to use more positive than negative words, and to end with some kind of coping self-statement, to avoid feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Other possible strategies are discussed above, and later in this book.

~~~

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Feedback on the Writing therapy book, from LinkedIn, on 20th June 2018:

I posted a piece on LinkedIn, in which I described an exercise that counsellors can use to find out what is going on at deep levels of mind within their face-to-face clients.  And I got this feedback:

Moses Tingir: “Great piece, Dr Jim Byrne. I will try it with my clients!”

~~~

Ilda Santos Gil: “Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge, Dr Byrne!”

~~~

Raza Abbas: “Valuable read: thanks for sharing”.

~~~

More generally, a therapeutic narrative is any kind of written or spoken narrative or story which promotes physical and/or mental healing.

Writing therapy, on the other hand, is any system of writing that is designed to promote psychological and physical wellbeing.

~~~

There are two ways of classifying the schools of thought in writing therapy.

  1. According to Bolton, Howlett, Lago and Wright (2004), there are two basic traditions in writing therapy: the cognitive/scientific tradition, and the creative/humanities tradition. Both are found to be effective.
  2. However, according to McLeod (2003), pages 227-238[ii]; plus McLeod(1997/2006), chapters 3 to 5, there are three approaches to narrative therapy in counselling and therapy. These are: (1) the psychodynamic approach; (2) the cognitive/ constructivist approach; and (3) the social constructionist approach.  Each of these would have a slightly different approach to writing therapy.

The best way to reconcile these classifications is this: Classification 2 is about approaches to narrative therapy (both written and spoken) in counselling and therapy; and Classification 1 is specifically about writing therapy, and not always in counselling and /or therapy contexts.

Writing therapy is highly effective, compared with drug treatments, but the mechanism by which writing therapy works is still unclear.  Some people have argued that it might just be that the opportunity to express a problem that has been bottled up is curative in itself and Pennebaker, 1997 agrees with this view.

Elsewhere, Pennebaker and colleagues have mainly emphasized that it is the thinking through of a problem that has not previously been thoroughly digested that produces the therapeutic effect.  But these two processes actually overlap and complement each other: expressing it, and digesting it; both in language.

Effective writing therapy seems to involve…

…End of extract.

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~~~

[i] Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.  Psychological Science, 8(3):  162.

[ii] McLeod, J. (2003) An Introduction to Counselling.  Third edition.  Buckingham: Open University Press.

~~~

Feedback on the Writing Therapy book, from LinkedIn members, on 21st June 2018:

Jean Johnson: “Thanks for the acknowledgement and confirmation of writing therapy as a good methodology to help clients to unburden and clarify their issues”.

~~~

Trudy McKenna QMACA COS: “Sounds like a great technique to draw upon in our ‘talking therapy ‘ practice. I’m considering using it specifically with a client diagnosed with schizophrenia decades ago – I would like to try writing therapy to open and help them reflect on past lifetime events, which they find difficult to access or bring to the surface in our sessions. Therefore, sessions are covering a very limited area that they are prepared to talk about – which is generally only in the present moment”.

~~~

Nathalie Mercier, M.A., : “I had no idea about Julia Cameron’s (substance abuse background, and the link to her discovering writing therapy)… that’s absolutely amazing. Thank you, Dr Byrne, for these powerful and life altering insights on re-authoring”.

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 4:

Chapter 4: Writing therapeutic, autobiographical stories

Pennebaker’s research does show, using various laboratory tests, that students who wrote about traumatic events had improved immune system functioning, and reported having an improved sense of well-being.  This did not occur in the case of students who wrote on neutral topics. (See Pennebaker, 1997).

~~~

4.1 Introduction

Because of my own (Jim Byrne’s) writing therapy experience – which included writing up the Story of My Origins, the Story of My Relationships (especially with my mother), and the stories of some Life Transitions – I tend to ask my clients to consider the same story titles from their own lives, using this list:

The story of origins;

the story of relationship;

the story of transitions;

the story of career difficulties.

~~~

These can also be broken down into:

The story of childhood;

the story of teenage years;

the story of adulthood;

the story of marriage; and/or divorce;

the story of drug and/or alcohol use; and so on.

~~~

A Story of Origins is particularly helpful for people who got caught in a cross-cultural trauma – for example, being an immigrant child in a host culture’s school system.  But coming from a highly conflicted family, a war zone, or being sexually abused as a child, would all make a story of origins highly relevant and most important to complete.

Noppe-Brandon (2018) takes a more focused approach, homing in on various stages of life, such as Birth, which proves to be a bit broader than the moment of birth or the year of birth.  Here are her focus questions for the Birth story:

“Who were you born to? What did your parents do? Where did they live? Do you have siblings? What early memories do you hold?  What conflicts do you recall? Any crises?” (Page 22).

She also asks about their parents’ histories; the history of their marriage; and perhaps some supplementary questions.

And, most notably, she asks them “…to spontaneously tell me the earliest most defining thing about themselves”. (Page 21).  The reason this is so significant is this:  Most often, what they answer is a clue to their present “stuckness”.

~~~

In tackling your own Story of Origins, or Birth, you could use a combination of:

# My approach, which begins with the first day at school, and then tries to track back to birth and early traumatic events (which, in my case, involved: being born into a loveless, arranged marriage; having bullying parents and a bullying older sibling; migration from the countryside to the city [resulting in my going to a city school with a country accent and culture, which made me a total outsider]) and:

# Gail Noppe-Brandon’s approach, which stops short of preschool.

~~~

While I follow the Story of Origins with the Story of Relationship – (Byrne 2016b) Noppe-Brandon (2018) follows the Birth Story, (which is her No. (1)), with six stories as follows:

(2) Preschool; (3) Elementary school; (4) Middle School; (5) High School; (6) College; and (7) Life in your 20’s, 30’s, etc.

If you follow Noppe-Brandon’s (2018) approach, you could look at the following questions in relation to each of the stories from (1) to (7) above:

How did this stage of your life feel to you?

What memories do you have of this period of your life?

What went well?

What went badly?

Did you have any traumas from this stage?

Have you been hiding a secret from this stage of your life? And, if so, what is it?  Please spell it out in your journal.

~~~

…end of extract.

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~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 5:

Chapter 5: A quick process for re-framing or reinterpreting your problems

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2009-2017

Introducing the Quick Six Windows Model

The Six Windows Model of E-CENT counselling is a way of helping clients to rethink and re-frame their noxious problems, without engaging in confrontation and conflictual argumentation. It consists of an experiment, in which the client is asked to imagine how their problem would look when viewed through six different window frames – or lenses – each of which provides a slightly different ‘context’ for the problem (or a slightly different tint of lens).

Here’s how it works:

The quick process

Think about a current problem, which is serious enough to require urgent treatment.  Give it a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means its ‘okay’, or not a significant problem, and 10 is ‘as bad as could be’. Look through each of the following six ‘windows’ in turn, (as if looking at that serious problem), while noting the slogan associated with the window; and ask yourself the questions suggested:

~~~

Window frame for Lifestyle couns bookWindow No.1 has this slogan associated with it: Life is difficult for all human beings, at least some of the time, and often much of the time. 

If life is difficult for all human beings, at least some of the time, and often much of the time, and I am human being, then it follows logically that my life must be difficult for me at least some of the time! Clearly, it’s okay to wish I could avoid a particular problem or difficulty, but it makes no sense to assume that I should be able to avoid all problems all of the time.

~~~

…end of extract.

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~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 6:

Chapter 6: The full Six Windows Model for re-framing your problems

6.1: Introduction

In this chapter we want to present the core model of E-CENT counselling and psychotherapy theory – The Six Windows Model – in full.

This model presents six different ways of looking at your key problem, as shown in Chapter 5, above; in order to help you to see it in a more empowering way; to see it more flexibly; and to be able to tolerate what cannot be changed, and to focus on what can be changed.

6.2: Re-framing

Human beings are largely delusional beings, who think they are looking out through their eyes, and seeing what is “there to be seen”.  This is called “naïve realism”, because it ignores the extent to which we construct what we see.

We do not see with our eyes so much as with our brains.  (Of course, this does not mean that ‘everything is relative’ to our individual viewpoint.  We are social animals, socialized into family and communal stories; and ‘official’ stories via the TV, schools, books, newspapers, plays, and daily conversations).

Eyes are part of the machinery of perception, but the decisions – about ‘what it is’ that we see – are not made by our eyes.  Those decisions are made by our stored social experiences driving our interpretations and judgements; followed by feelings and behaviours; followed by thoughts.

We look at the world through (emotive/evaluative) interpretive lenses, all of which are non-conscious, and permanently beyond direct, conscious inspection.  We can infer what they might be.  But we can never be sure.

However, without knowing what a client’s non-conscious frames might be, we can help them to over-write them with new, more self-supporting frames, like the six shown in Figure 6.1, below.

We do not see ‘external events’ so much with our eyes, then, as we see them through ‘frames of reference and interpretation’, which were created (socially) in the past, and which we now implement as habit-based, non-conscious, stimulus-response pairings.  (This does not mean that Epictetus was right to say that “people are not upset by the things that happen to them”.  They are!  But the extent of our emotional distress can be reduced by moderating our expectations and our judgementsat least to some degree!) Epictetus was an advocate of both moderate and extreme Stoical ideas.  And the idea that we are not upset by what happens to us is one of his most extreme ideas; and one that nobody can live by; and nobody should be expected to live by such an inhuman standard.

Here is an extract from the Six Windows Model, showing the first two windows…

2 windows extracted from 6

Extract from Figure 6.1: The Six Windows Model of E-CENT

As Shakespeare wrote: “If you cut us, do we not bleed?”  And the people who, on average, experience the most traumatic experiences – like war, rape, destitution, economic stress, employment redundancy, business failure, and so on – also show the highest degree of emotional distress – all other things being equal!

Because we are socialized animals, we see what we have been trained by our social experiences to see. And because we are fleshy bodies (with innate affects) and fragile emotional egos (or virtual personalities), we fear being hurt, physically or emotionally; or abandoned by our significant others; or subjected to unusual deprivations or cruelties. We are born with innate emotional control systems, including anxiety; and we learn what to fear from our culture.

A lot of what we see/ perceive/ interpret is okay, good, and helpful!  That is to say, many of our socialized perceptions are helpful in allowing us to know what to think and what to do in relatively standardized, predictable, routine situations. We could call these socialized ‘seeing’ responses our non-conscious ‘pattern matching processes.  (Griffin and Tyrell, 2004[i]).

To put this as Jonathan Haidt put it, in a different context: …

…End of extract

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~~~

[i] Griffin, J. and Tyrrell, I. (2004) Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking. Chalvington, East Sussex: HG Publishing.

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 7:

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 8:

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 9:

~~~

Brief extract from Chapter 10:

Chapter 10: Adding writing therapy to face-to-face counselling sessions

10.1 Guidance for counsellors and psychotherapists

In this chapter, we offer counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, and others, a range of knowledge and skills for helping their clients to use writing therapy as an adjunct to face-to-face therapy services.

It would be a mistake to see face-to-face counselling and therapy as being challenged or threatened by writing therapy. How can I illustrate the situation, to clarify my argument?

~~~

10.2 Three levels of therapeutic self-maintenance

Perhaps the analogy of the relationship of a motor car – (the ‘client’, or source of need) to the process of car maintenance (which is ‘the therapy’, or solution) – could act as a helpful ‘thought experiment’?

Let us see:

As a non-car user, looking from the outside, I see three obvious levels of maintenance of private motor cars:

  1. Breakdown services: These are required when the car can “no longer move”, or only “move with difficulty”. (This is equivalent to the highest level of trauma, or ‘stuckness’).
  2. Annual, statutory inspections (with repair requirements). (In the UK, these are legislated for by the state, and called Ministry of Transport [MOT] tests). These tests are called for annually, on the basis of standard rates of wear and tear, which often require the fitting of new parts, and the repair of repairable old parts. (This is comparable to the mid-range of psychological difficulties, which occur from time to time [and certainly much less frequently than annually!] due to wear and tear from relationship difficulties at home and in work; and to other forms of stress).
  3. Routine maintenance of spark plugs, oil and water levels, air pressure in tyres (tires), fuel refilling, cleaning and polishing the body work, etc. (This is equivalent to the lowest level of help needed for stress and strain, or emotional turbulence).

It is my suggestion that we can find analogies with those three levels of ‘car therapy’ in the world of ‘people therapy’.  This is how I see it:

1(a). Emotional trauma and breakdown: If a person experiences an extreme trauma, or breakdown, they probably need a good deal of emotional comfort and reassurance.  This can best be done in counselling and psychotherapy, but preferably not until enough time has passed for some distancing of the trauma, and some basic self-directed, non-conscious integration of the experience.  So, a couple of years after a major breakdown, a person may be helped with a ‘breakdown service’ in counselling and psychotherapy.  Nobody would (normally) suggest that this person should rely upon writing therapy to cure their problem (though we know that John Mulligan [the Shopping Cart Soldier], and Muriel Schiffman [the author of Self Therapy], did precisely that, because they did not have significant freedom of choice in their situations. [They lacked the budget for therapy, for example).

1(b). Intractable problems: If a person is finding it impossible to resolve some ‘problem in their head’, or in their heart; they may often seek help from a counsellor or psychotherapist.  This category of seekers after help probably include the bulk of those individuals who constitute the flow of clients into, through and out of counsellors offices. (This not a ‘breakdown service’, but perhaps more like a replacement of ‘spare parts’, or an ‘essential repairs’ service!).

2…Counselling-savvy individuals who want periodic counselling: Many people, who are aware of the value of counselling and therapy, may choose to go to see a counsellor from time to time – with bigger gaps than the MOT test – but nevertheless, they may use the term ‘topping up’, or ‘routine check-up’. Sometimes they may put off these routine check-ups until the pressure to attend becomes painful and persistent! But many of these individuals may also, routinely, under normal circumstance, use music therapy, relaxation therapy and writing therapy, in their own homes, as a form of DIY therapeutic self-treatment!  And/or they may go running, and/or swimming, or to yoga or Tai Chi classes. (No reasonable counsellor or therapist would dream of objecting to individuals – including therapists themselves – doing this kind of therapeutic work on a self-help basis!)

3…Routine maintenance: The world is such a stressful place that we all need some routine maintenance of our emotional equanimity. And hardly anybody can afford to buy all of that routine maintenance from paid professionals. For examples:

When Renata was a full-time lecturer, in Further Education, she began most days by writing her Morning Pages.  This was a form of psychotherapy for the interpersonal bruising that was endemic in that kind of professional role.  But it was also a form of self-management, in terms of managing her own mind; her own time; her own stress level; her work planning; and so on.

When Jim finds himself up against some kind of emotional difficulty, he will often begin the day by writing his Morning Pages; or he will write about his problems later in the day.  This is a form of writing therapy for emotional self-management.  But he may also include: work planning; time management; goal setting; clarification of values; and reflections on the creative writing process.  (He got at least three of his books, in outline, from this process of writing therapy).

~~~

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Based on my thought-experiment (or reflective thoughts) above, it seems to me that counsellors have to accept that not all therapeutic work will be done on a face-to-face basis, or even on a paid professional basis.  Some of it will be done on the basis of Do-It-Yourself writing therapy.

Neither should we see face-to-face counselling and writing therapy as antagonistic or mutually exclusive systems; because:

Firstly: There is no reason why most counsellors cannot use writing therapy for their own ‘routine maintenance’, or even for some of their ‘periodic counselling’ top-up needs.

Secondly: It could be a great advantage for some proportion of counselling clients if their counsellors introduced them (as appropriate) to writing therapy, as an adjunct to therapy.  It could also be a great advantage for the counsellor themselves, in terms of improving their therapeutic efficacy.  According to Noppe-Brandon (2018) – writing about the advantages of writing therapy as an adjunct to face-to-face counselling:

“In my experience of many decades, writing accelerates the time it takes to get someone unstuck by about fifty percent. Writing author-izes clients: it introduces them to themselves, while also teaching a self-regulating and self-understanding skill”. (Page 25).

This will not be appropriate for every client. Or for every session.  But with the right client, at the right moment, it can be extremely helpful.  I will clarify some of the kinds of ways that counsellors can use writing therapy as an adjunct to their face-to-face work in the remainder of this chapter.

Most systems of counselling and psychotherapy can be modified to include some elements of writing therapy, from time to time, and with particular clients, as appropriate.  (The one obvious exception to this rule is the Rogerian, non-directive, person-centred approach, which does not fit well with any kind of intervention by the counsellor!)

~~~

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10.3 Incorporating writing therapy into your face-to-face counselling practice

Writing therapy is such a powerful tool for unearthing, exploring, and clarifying psychological problems that it makes sense for counsellors and psychotherapists to have a good working knowledge of how to incorporate this tool into some of their face-to-face sessions, with some of their clients, selectively, as appropriate.

One of the simplest and most obvious ways in which this writing therapy approach could help is this: …

…End of extract.

~~~

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Complete list of References used in creating this book (expanded and updated on 25th April 2018):

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