Use Writing to Improve Your Health and Productivity

By Ellen Taliaferro

Stress and trauma come in all types of packages, including good ones. Consider the plight of a woman who bumped into an old college sweetheart, married him, and then experienced the agony of abuse so profound that it ended their relationship.

When it was all over, college lover boy plunged into a torrid affair and never looked back. Not so with the now-single woman. She felt like a disoriented failure. What went wrong? And now what? A journal and pen turned out to be her savior. As she struggled to put her life back together she wrote in her journal whenever she could.

She wrote:

• To find out how her marriage had gone wrong.

• To understand the person she had now become.

• Most of all, to learn how to rebuild her life and jumpstart her career.

Later she told friends and family that these excursions into her journal had literally saved her life. Turning to a journal may have been the best thing she could have done: inexpensive, accessible, and rewarding.

Research involving controlled study groups now reveals that writing about past traumatic experiences can improve the health and well-being in many individuals.

We know more about the fact that writing about emotionally charged events works than we know about why it works. I put my money on two reasons why expressive and autobiographical writing works: disclosure and living the examined life.

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you
-Trauma survivor, Maya Angelou

From the secret gospel of Saint Thomas we learn: "If you bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will be your salvation. If you do not bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will destroy you."

Socrates and other Greeks said, "Know thyself." Socrates also cautioned that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Show me a pen and paper (or a computer keyboard) and I'll show you how to use an expressive writing method to "know thyself" and to "bring forth that which is within you." I think that all writing is therapeutic. If nothing else, I usually feel better when completing dreaded writing chores such as writing checks to pay monthly bills.

Writing therapy using expressive, and focused autobiographical writing has been shown to improve numerous health conditions. This form of writing is easy to do, inexpensive, and requires no research other than self-exploration. This form of writing has helped many people who are recovering from traumatic events, enduring severe losses, and suffering from chronic diseases.

Three major reasons to use writing as therapy for those in the healing and helping professions include:

• To discharge the "vicarious traumatization" that comes with the territory.

• To help victims and survivors who are safe accept and deal with the aftermath of the violence and trauma they experienced.

• To promote self-healing by writing personal stories or books and help others - a beneficial and therapeutic version of "bearing witness."

Start you own therapeutic writing practice today. Write for just 15 minutes about whatever bothers you or about any emotionally charged event in your life. It would be great to do this every day, but if time pressures prevail, write a minimum of three times a week for at least six weeks. At the end of six weeks, take stock of your progress.

Speaker and author Ellen Taliaferro, MD lives in Half Moon Bay, CA and serves as the Medical Director of the Keller Center for Family Violence Intervention at the San Mateo Medical Center in San Mateo, CA.

She is the author of three books: WellWriting® for Health After Trauma and Abuse, The Physician's Guide to Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, and A Handbook: Respond to Intimate Partner Violence - 10 Action Steps You Can Take to Help Your Patients and Your Practice. Dr.Taliaferro can be reached by calling 650-393-3660 or through her websites and