What is Writing Therapy?

How to Become a Writing Therapist

Writing Therapist. BobLing - Istockphoto.com

Many psychologists and mental health therapists encourage clients to use writing and journaling as part of the healing process. More clients and health therapists are finding that writing is sometimes quicker and better than talking for healing complex emotional pain and turmoil.

Writing is something that is natural for some, and a habit that clients are often taught to do from a very young age. Young girls, for example, are often encouraged to keep diaries, while boys sometimes keep journals of their adventures and daily highs, lows, and everything that happens in the middle.

How Writing Helps

In schools throughout the world, children are taught to keep a daily journal to record what happens during their day, or on school breaks. Some children are taught to write an autobiography as a tool to help them learn to express themselves. These forms of expressive writing can be self-revealing and therapeutic for children and teach them how to soothe at a later age.

Scientific evidence supports the use of writing to improve mood and working memory. In fact, ?writing therapy, also known as expressive therapy or bibliotherapy, may improve working memory, academic performance, and reduce disease activity in individuals with certain chronic conditions including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis according to some studies. It may also reduce the level of stress hormones including cortisol in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD in individuals that take time to write about their stress.

How does this work?

Writing is a way to help relieve stress; it allows clients to release trauma in a way that words spoken may not be able to do. Some clients may not have the ability to express words in the spoken form. Expressive therapy may also help relieve other stress disorders and chronic symptoms including the side-effects from cancer.

Some research suggests that writing therapy may de-sensitize clients to formerly stressful conditions. Writing can give language to clients that may otherwise have no language, transforming life in significant ways.

What makes a good writing therapist? If you are good at helping people tell a story, then you will probably make a great writing therapist. An expressive therapist is someone that can help others work through their stories. The goal of a writing therapist is to teach someone how to express their story best by writing. This may be in a journal, or in a diary, or online in an electronic blog or private journal.

As an expressive writing therapist, you can encourage your client to write about the trauma, problems or other complex issues that your client faces, and then encourage them to work through the healing process, problem-solving by using writing as the vehicle. Many schools have implemented doctoral programs that provide clinical expertise in writing therapy.​

The Certification Process

You can now complete a certification as a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist or REAT via the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association or IEATA. If you want to see clients it is also recommended that you seek a master or doctoral degree in expressive therapy.

A program of therapy may include classes in expressive therapy, counseling psychology and field or clinical experience. One of the schools that offers this is Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; another is the CA Institute of Integral Studies which includes courses in family therapy.

The IEATA certification requires 500 hours of supervised clinical work if you earn a degree at an institution that does not offer an expressive arts degree. Otherwise, you must complete 200 hours of supervised clinical work in the field.

Other options include a graduate certificate in expressive arts therapy, including that offered by Appalachian State University.

To complete this certificate you must finish 18 hours of study and gain post-hour experience working with clients. You do not have to be registered to become an Expressive Arts Therapist, but becoming registered as a therapist will help lend credibility to your practice. You may also help attract more clients that are seeking a professional that is skilled in writing therapy.

Source

Pennebaker, James W. Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Southern Methodist University. Psychological Science. Web. http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Faculty/Pennebaker/Reprints/P1997.pdf

Stanton, AL, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of a written emotional expression and benefit finding in breast cancer patients. J Clinical Oncol. 2002 Oct 15:20(20):4160-8.

Morgan, NP, Graves, KD, Poggi, EA and Cheson, BD. Implementing an expressive writing study in a cancer clinic. Oncologist, 2008 February; 13(2):196-204. Web: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326123

Smyth, JM, Hockemeyer, JM, Tulloch, H. Expressive writing and post-traumatic stress disorder: Effects on trauma symptoms, mood states, and cortisol reactivity." Br J Health Psychol. 2008 Feb 13(Pt 1): 85-93.

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