Mind Matters: Writing to heal

In the sturm und drang of adolescence, I remember sitting alone on the living room sofa or in my bedroom writing about my wretched state of being in a stream of consciousness fashion. After doing this for 20 minutes or so, I could hardly read these tomes and so would tear them up with a: “blah.” However, I felt relief in pouring out my soul on paper and could get back to doing homework with a clearer head.

It was not until many years later as a psychologist did I come upon the research of psychologist James Pennebaker on Writing To Heal. My intuition as a teen to scribble down my feelings corroborated with Pennebaker’s discovery that expressive writing can help a person feel less negative. Sandra Marinella, in her book, “The Story You Need To Tell: Writing To Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss,” revisits Dr. Pennebaker’s research and gives us an outline of the Pennebaker writing process.

First, find a safe and comfortable place to write. Then, choose some difficult feeling or experience that has affected you deeply. With no holds barred, just let your story unfold, writing non-stop for at least 20 minutes. Pennebaker notes to do this for four days straight. You many continue writing about the same event or experience for the four days, or you may choose different themes. Consider, if the topic remains constant, how this event has changed your life. Attempt to write a complete experience and reflect on your work each time to see if you’ve gotten to your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Marinella, herself a writing teacher, chose to write about healing after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not long after, her adult son was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In her book, she not only describes her own journey writing her way through loss and struggles, but also gives insight into how others have used writing to face their difficulties as well. Of the numerous examples, she reports is the story of a father whose 6-year-old son died in the Sandy Hook shooting. This father cherishes precious moments with his son by writing letters for the Sandy Hook Promise.

We all have stories arising from whatever experiences we claim as our own: family of origin difficulties; interpersonal conflicts; sexual or physical abuse; past traumatic stress of soldiers, refugees, rape victims; the death of loved ones; illness; miscarriages; and on and on.

For many years I have urged clients to journal, to write out their feelings and take the time to put on paper what’s churning in the brain: free up those thoughts. I’ve also suggested to clients upset with someone to write out all their feelings in a letter that will never be sent.

Marinella considers that there are stages to writing and healing. First, to experience the pain and the grief: it may not be possible at first to write or talk about the traumatic event. (I remember a lovely woman whose daughter died in a car crash. She came to the grief support group and sat in silence for almost a year before she could utter a word.) Eventually, the silence is broken and we are able to speak and to write. Writing helps piece together “the shattered story.” New meaning is found from the brokenness and the story is transformed.

Marinella’s book is a thoughtful and caring guide o how to embrace difficult feelings and experiences by engaging the “power of the pen.”

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or (610)388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, “Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.”

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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