Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing, Journaling and Therapeutic Letters

Many of us have at some point in our lives taken pen to paper or opened a Word document and attempted to put our thoughts and feelings into words. Writing is a great problem solving tool. You may be listing the pros and cons of making a decision in your life or may be trying to sort out a variety of thoughts and feelings that seem to be a bit muddled. This kind of writing which promotes self knowledge and self awareness is sometimes called journaling.

There are clear psychological, emotional and health benefits to this kind of writing. Research shows that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.
It improves cognitive functioning. It strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses. It counteracts many of the negative effects of stress and is as effective as yoga or exercise for stress reduction. Journaling about traumatic events can help you process these memories by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved. By engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, writing allows the experience to become fully integrated in one’s mind.

To be most helpful, one must write in detail about feelings and cognitions related to stressful events, as one would discuss topics in therapy. Writing and journaling have additional therapeutic value when the writing becomes the basis of a therapeutic conversation with a counsellor. Sharing your writing and unresolved concerns allows for the additional therapeutic value of feedback from a trained professional. Therapeutic letters from a counsellor in response to your writing or journaling often takes the form of a lengthy but focused correspondence dealing with your key concerns. Some practitioners of therapeutic letter-writing estimate that a good therapeutic letter can have the same therapeutic value as four to ten face-to-face counselling sessions. These therapeutic letters can become a permanent record that you can easily re-access whenever you need to be reminded or reassured. Although therapeutic letters can be a part of face-to-face counselling, online counselling is a great medium for utilizing writing to work though these kinds of life issues.

Warm regards,


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Emotional Honesty –Is it “safe" to talk?

Recently, I have been talking with a number of people who are struggling with the issue of “opening up” about their thoughts and feelings with a significant person in their lives. These people want to talk about their inner experiences and for a variety of reasons are not sure if they should proceed. This can happen to all of us in a new relationship just as it can happen in older more familiar relationships. Here are a few points to consider about emotional honesty:

1)Opening up means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It is important to understand what you are hoping to achieve by opening up about your feelings and whether the desired outcome is realistic. It is also important to understand what your fears are about opening up about some particular issue. What is the worst thing that you could imagine happening? Importantly, if this worst scenario did happen, despite the uncomfortable feelings, would you be okay and capable of moving on?

2)Intimacy is a two-way street. You can say that there is not enough intimacy in the relationship to feel comfortable talking about the feelings that you want to discuss. However, intimacy is also created by taking the risk and taking your conversations with that person to a new or different level. You can create a more intimate relationship by “inviting” someone to talk about things that you have not talked about previously. You are leading the way down the path of greater emotional intimacy for both of you.

3)Testing the waters. It is possible to talk about talking about your feelings before you actually begin. First, you can let the person know that there is something that you would like to talk to them about and possibly identify the positive reasons that you would like to open up this kind of a conversation, i.e., the relationship is important to you, you want to share more of yourself with them etc. Second, you can let them know what your worries or reservations about talking are, i.e., a fear of judgment, embarrassment, rejection, or upsetting the relationship. This will allow the other person to address those fears. If there have been incidents in your relationship in which you feel that when you communicated your thoughts and feelings and they were not responded to in a way that you hoped for, you may want to discuss this issue before moving forward. Only if and when you are satisfied that these are no longer significant concerns would you then proceed with what you want to say.

4)Why bother “opening up”? Not talking about your feelings is stressful and it causes emotional suffering. It creates emotional distance in relationships and can increase our sense of aloneness and isolation. Not talking about what is going on inside of us keeps us separate from others and our humanity. Not talking is also unhealthy. Stress takes a huge toll on our bodies and is linked to many serious health concerns and illnesses. Finally, not opening up about our inner experiences robs us of the opportunity to experience real happiness and deep connection with others.