Creative Writing as a Therapeutic Tool

I have undertaken several projects concerning creative writing as a therapeutic tool. The most beneficial was with patients with life limiting illness attending our local hospice St Oswalds.

The patients at St Oswald's published their work in a booklet which you may read here. If you enjoy the pieces please consider making a donation to St Oswald's.

The project was funded by The Queen’s Nursing Institute. The aims were

  • To use creative writing as a form of stress management and a source of enjoyment for palliative care patients.
  • To enhance the quality of life for patients with limited time left to them.
  • To encourage self-esteem in this group of patients.
  • To help health professionals to see patients as individuals with interesting stories and personal anecdotes rather than generic ‘patients’.

These aims were all realised, with the addition of

  • A strong network of support was provided by group members to one another.
  • A domino effect of positive feelings grew within the group dynamics.
  • Recognition of the importance of health professionals responding to patients needs even if these are not on their initial agenda.

See Independent Nurse 16 March-5th April 2009 p45-46 for more information.

When considering creative writing as a therapeutic tool I’ve been interested to come across a variety of therapy writers who encourage their cohort to write about their troubles/illnesses/traumas. I have found little evidence that this is helpful and in some cases it seems to compound negativity and make individuals feel worse.

Daily journals which are often encouraged, have been found to have a negative effect on individuals, making them more introverted. The only writing about negative experiences with good scientific evidence of its positive outcomes is Emotional expressive writing.

Emotional expressive writing offers a way of coping so the individual no longer feels ‘walled in.’ It enables the individual undergoing the process to get rid of or cope with ‘toxic secrets.’ The hiding of a secret is damaging to health and in some way the expressive writing offers a way of coping.

To read more about this method see James Pennebaker's website.