The act of writing has long been a valuable tool for humans to communicate with one another as well as a way to process what we are not always able to express to the rest of the world. A writer Brianna Woodward shared a post she wrote about those who have touched her twenty-one years of life but are no longer part of it. She expressed the post as being:
Why I want to thank everyone who has ever been a part of my life, for good or for bad. via To Those Who Have Touched My Twenty-One Years of Life But Are No Longer A Part Of It — Brianna Woodward
There are many lessons that we learn throughout our lives but if we do not take the time to actively process them or ponder what we have learned then we are not getting 100% value of experiences. In Brianna Woodward's writing we see an example of how you are able to write and process things in your life at any time. By taking this time you are able to learn new lessons and help develop new meaning around your experiences.
While working with teens and young adults on wilderness expeditions I learned a great deal more about what is known as scriptotherapy or therapeutic writing. At the 2016 ACA-CCPA Conference & Expo Dr. Samuel Gladding presented a session on the benefits of therapeutic writing as well as some helpful ways to go about writing therapeutically. Of the evidence that he presented he shared that a study by James Pennebaker that showed by intentionally writing for 20 minutes a day you can relive stress and improve other aspects of your life. Gladding specifically highlighted that those who received these benefits wrote for a minimum of four days a week for a month. Can you sacrifice 80 minutes a week to write?
Now if you are thinking "I'm not one for writing in a journal or diary" that is perfectly fine and fair. Therapeutic writing is not restricted to one writing medium, style, or practice. For example, during the therapeutic wilderness expeditions we dedicated at least 20 minutes to replying to either sentence stems or writing prompts. You have also probably learned or seen others journaling in either a letter or story format. Here are six different ways that you can take time to write and process your experiences, emotions, and thoughts:
Start with Word Clusters or Mind Maps. This exercise focuses around the idea of putting an idea in the center of the page. After writing this idea down you proceed to write ideas that you connect to that idea. For example: You may start with the idea of a pirate. After thinking about the pirate you realize a pirate was fearless, greedy, scruffy, scary, massive, and tough so you write those down as well around the word pirate. In this type of exercise we could start with pirate, go to greedy, and then go to scrooge and so on allowing the connections to occur as we think about them.
Sentence stems (i.e. - "Today I felt...") are a great start in order to get in the habit of writing what you would like to express in response to your experiences. Therapistaid.com has a great starting worksheet that gives prime examples of some helpful sentence stems you can use to help yourself start processing and writing.
Five Minute Writing Sprint - set a timer for five minutes and start writing. You can add the difficulty by setting the rule that you must keep the writing utensil in contact with the paper for the entire five minutes.
Six Word Stories - Stories told in six words that can then be processed and explored through journaling or through a therapy session.
Journaling - writing through the daily events in a journal can be helpful to process every day events but journaling can also take on the form of logging specific activities such things to grateful for, etc.
Memory Book - creation of a book with hints, tidbits, and advice that you would want to give to another group or generation. These books can take on a scrapbook type of format.
Once you have gotten your experiences, emotions, and thoughts written down they can become even more powerful and therapeutic when they are debriefed and processed. This can either be as part of an everyday life wellness routine or as part of your therapeutic work with a therapist (i.e.- counselor, social worker, psychologist, etc.).