In the late 80s, psychologist James Pennebaker posed the question: ‘why do people throughout the world seek to tell their stories?’ In his original study, participants were asked to reflect on their deepest thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event. They then had to write for 15 to 20 minutes per day, about the same event, over the course of several days. The results were astonishing. At six week and three month follow up, the “emotional” writing group showed significant and measurable improvements – such as a boosted immune system and fewer health centre visits – compared to a “neutral writing” control group. In the many replications of this now famous study, researchers have demonstrated that participants in the “emotional” writing condition show improvements varying from reduced absenteeism, symptom and medication reduction amongst pain and asthma patients, fewer days in hospital after surgery, improvements in blood pressure and sleep, reductions in depression and improvements in self-image. All from writing?
Since those early studies an entire psychology of creative writing has emerged. It seems that self-expression – and especially writing – is therapeutic “under the right conditions”. So what might they be? And why might this be so?
Jane Turner Goldsmith is a writer, psychologist and teacher. Her novel Poinciana (Wakefield Press 2006) was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Prize. Jane has published short stories, poetry and children’s fiction (Gone Fishing, Macmillan, 2005) and edited a non-fiction anthology of adoption stories (Adopting: parents’ stories, Wakefield Press, 2007). Jane will be running a workshop titled Writing in Flow at SAWC.
In the workshop you’ll explore some of these ideas through ‘hands-on’, interactive writing activities. You’ll judge for yourselves whether writing is ‘good for us – whether as catharsis, self-expression, creativity, getting into ‘flow’ – or pure fun. You’ll try your hand at activities that engage the senses and which lead into meaning-rich metaphorical writing. You’ll also get to discuss writing as a ‘meaning-making’ process, exploring the importance of narrative, as well as the freedom of ‘stream of consciousness’. You’ll definitely try to get into a ‘mindful’ state and if lucky – slip into ‘flow’. Come along for the ride!