The Courage to Heal

“Expressive writing is a powerful method to help people get through difficult times.” Journal writer

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Expressive writing focuses on the writer’s internal experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This writing uses reflective writing, which enables the writer to gain mental and emotional clarity, validate experiences and come to a deeper understanding of him or herself.

It strengthens their immune system as well as their minds, by assisting people to manage and learn from negative experiences. Writing is no stranger to therapy. For years, practitioners have used journals and other writing forms to help people heal from stress and trauma.  As they change negative thinking into positive focused thoughts, their lives change for the better. Journaling can reduce stress by helping one get rid of negative thoughts. They are able to confront and reframe traumatic life experiences, and make positive changes in their personal lives.


Writing to Heal helps them access and understand their true emotional feelings that they may not be aware of. Most mental health experts recommend journaling as it can improve mood and manage symptoms of depression. Research supports this and suggests journaling is good for mental health. It also may make talk therapy work better. Journaling can be a great stress reducer through organizing thoughts and clearing the mind.

New research suggests that expressive writing may also offer physical benefits to people battling terminal or life-threatening diseases. Studies by psychologists James Pennebaker, Ph.D., the University of Texas—Austin, and Joshua Smyth, Ph.D., Syracuse University—suggest that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses like HIV/AIDS, asthma, and arthritis.

Researchers are now beginning to understand how and why writing benefits the immune system, and why some people appear to receive more help than others. There is agreement that the key to writing’s effectiveness is in the way people use it to interpret and understand their experiences, and even the words they use. Venting is not enough to relieve stress, and thereby improve health. Smyth says, “To tap into writing’s healing power, people must use it to reflect on and better understand and learn from their emotions.

Health benefits of journaling

A groundbreaking study of writing’s physical effects appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) In the study led by Smyth, over one hundred asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on three consecutive days—seventy-one of them wrote about the most stressful event of their lives, and the rest wrote of the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans. Four months after the writing exercise, seventy patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement on clinical evaluations compared with thirty-seven of the control patients. Also, those who wrote about stress improved more and deteriorated less, than control groups for both diseases. “So, writing helped patients get better, and kept them from getting worse,” says Smyth.

Pennebaker says, “By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings. It helps you to get past them.” His research indicates that suppressing negative, trauma-related thoughts compromises immune functioning and he found that those who write visit the doctor less often.

There is evidence that the nature of a person’s writing is key to its health effects, notes health psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa. In an intensive journaling study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the results she showed suggests that people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from the writing. They are far worse than people who write about neutral events, while those who focus on meaning develop greater awareness of the positive aspects of a stressful experience. “You need focused thought as well as emotions,” says Lutgendorf. “An individual need to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”

However, Pennebaker says, “People who talk about things over and over in the same ways aren’t getting any better. There has to be growth or change in the way they view their experiences.” In My memoir, Through It All: A Memoir of Grief and Loss, the lessons I learned was the reflections of the good the experience provided.

The language people use is evidence of their changed perspective. I provide a list of lessons I learned by reflecting on my experiences. Pennebaker found the more people use such cause-and-effect words like “because,” “realize” and “understand,” the more they appear to benefit from writing. Writing my memoir was a healing journey. I discovered things about myself and my childhood that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

Pennebaker acknowledges that some personality types respond better to writing than others. Evidence suggests that people who are unable to speak freely benefit most. A host of other individual differences like handling stress, ability to self-regulate, and interpersonal relations—all restore harmony and balance and the effectiveness of writing.

The power of writing to heal lies in the mind of the writer, that’s where practitioners can help clients tap into their healing power. Writing helps them track their progress in their thinking. The benefits of expressing thoughts and feelings on paper can complement traditional therapy.

Therapeutic journaling is any writing or related expressive process used for psychological healing or growth—it can be a beneficial supporting therapy. When integrated into a treatment plan, journaling becomes a dynamic tool for personal growth and healing. Therapeutic journaling and the benefits from its use goes beyond talk therapy.

Heddy Keith, M. Ed is a certified journal writing instructor and retired language arts teacher. She offers Expressive Writing-workshops and classes in the Milwaukee area. Contact her at [email protected] for more information.

Why Self-Advocacy Is the Key to Better Health Outcomes

By Juan Cabrera

As a Black woman, becoming an advocate for your own health is a great way to stay informed and ensure that you are getting the best care possible. This can be a daunting task, but with these tips in mind, you will be well on your way to becoming an informed healthcare consumer. The steps below from the Center for Leadership of Afrikan Women’s Wellness will help you stay informed and ensure you receive optimal care.

1. Derive Emotional Support From Loved Ones

When taking charge of your own health, Biotène notes that it is important to have a strong support system. Whether it is family or friends, having someone close by to turn to when times get tough can help make the process easier. Talking about your health concerns with those closest to you can also help provide emotional support and comfort when facing challenging decisions regarding treatments or procedures.

2. Contact Insurance Companies

Having a good understanding of your insurance coverage is essential when it comes to taking charge of your own health. Make sure that you read all documents provided by the insurance company so that you are aware of any limits or restrictions, as well as what services are covered under the policy. Communicating directly with insurers can also help if there are any issues or questions related to coverage or reimbursement.

3. Research Hospitals and Healthcare Providers

Take time to research and compare healthcare facilities and providers before making any decisions regarding treatment or procedures. Look at reviews online, request referrals from trusted sources, and contact the facilities and providers directly if needed. This will ensure that you are making an informed decision about where you receive care and who provides it for you.

4. Get a Second Opinion

If you feel uncomfortable about a diagnosis or proposed plan of treatment given by one doctor, then consider seeking a second opinion from another provider. Having multiple perspectives on the same issue can help give clarity and peace of mind when making decisions about healthcare matters. Additionally, as Cleveland Clinic points out, this may also bring up new options that were not previously considered before, which could ultimately result in better overall outcomes for the patient in question.

5. Follow Medication Instructions

Properly understanding how the medication works and following dosage instructions provided by doctors is crucial in achieving optimal results and minimizing side effects. Adhering to prescription instructions laid out by healthcare professionals involved in providing care is essential for patients. Correct medication use can lead to better health outcomes and avoid adverse reactions.

6. Keep Your Medical Records on Hand

It is highly recommended that patients always have PDF copies of their medical records readily available to them. This not only enables them to monitor their health progress but also provides easy access to crucial medical data such as lab results and diagnoses. In addition, PDF records can be easily shared with different healthcare providers during transfers and emergency visits. To convert records into PDF format online, patients can use an app on their smartphone to create PDFs; this will scan a document for sharing, saving time and money while ensuring quality care across different healthcare systems.

7. Stay on Top of Billing

It’s crucial for patients to review payment statements from insurance companies and ensure there are no errors or misuse of funds. Without proper oversight, patients might incur extra charges, which can harm their financial interests. Reviewing payment statements also helps maintain accurate records during the entire process of filing insurance claims for healthcare treatments or procedures.

Taking control of your own health is crucial for receiving the best medical care available. This means not only understanding what healthcare services are covered by your insurance but also researching healthcare providers and facilities, asking for second opinions, and keeping your medical records organized and easily accessible. By implementing these best practices, black women can empower themselves to take charge of their health journey and make informed decisions about their well-being.

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