any people lose their emotional balance
when overwhelmed with fear, pain, sorrow,
anger, even joy! Writing can be a way of
straightening out emotional knots, a way
of achieving balance in our lives so that a sense of
well-being emerges. Within each of us there exists a
“self-righting” mechanism. Just as surely as a plant will
turn toward the light, our creative imagination helps
us recreate ourselves. Writing therapy is also called
poetry therapy, bibliotherapy or journal therapy. It is
the intentional use of the spoken and written word for
healing and personal growth.
While a facilitator of a transformative writing
session may be a bibliotherapist, a journal therapist,
or a certified/registered poetry therapist, many people
naturally seek to vent their feelings with pen and paper
on their own. After 9/11, newspapers across the country
were surprised to receive poem after poem penned by
people moved to write about the traumatic event. When
confronted with crisis, scientists tell us there are three
responses to stress: fight, flight or freeze. However,
poetry therapists recognize another option — No fight,
no flight, just write!
Expressive writing gives the writer a sense of mastery
and control. This aspect is extremely important for
people coping with change and experiencing stress. In
my experience, creating a “play space” with words helps
to anchor the writer to the here and now, strengthens
boundaries, stimulates creativity and builds self-esteem.
Here are a few suggestions for getting started:
Let your hand move freely across the page —
or let your fingers dance on the keyboard. Do
not censor or try to organize. Free yourself of all
judgment. Silence your inner critic; there are no
grades in the school of life. If you can’t think of
anything, write, “I can’t think of anything” until
that thought changes. You may be surprised.
These are easy and fun to do. You don’t need
complete sentences: Five Things I’m Grateful For, Three
Things That I Don’t Want to Think About, Seven Things
That Make Me Smile, Four Things I Look Forward To,
Five Favorite Foods, Seven Things That Annoy Me.
Complete these sentence stems:
I used to ______________, but now I ______________.
Repeat several times.
My life changed forever when ____________________.
It’s hard to admit, but ___________________________.
I need you to understand that _____________________.
The 5-Minute Writing Jog
Set a kitchen timer and write about your thoughts
and feelings or recent events. Include sensory details
(sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, taste). After
you re-read your writing, reflect on it with, “When I
read this over, I realize that _____________.”
Sherry Reiter, PhD, LCSW,
PTR-MS is author of Writing
Away the Demons: Stories
of Creative Coping Through
(North Star Press, 2009). She
is director of The Creative
“Righting” Center and
facilitates writing therapy
long distance and in New York
City. Her husband survived a
stroke at 38; he is now 70.
No Fight, No Flight...
By Sherry Reiter, Ph.D., LCSW
Registered Poetry Therapist