Over the years I have heard how counsellors and novices advised people to write letters and journals after sad experiences. Journal-writing can indeed be a way of attempting to help yourself during a difficult time. However many people experience a reinforcement of their pain and unwellness when they have to write about their feelings.

Writing a letter to someone to express your unwell emotions or pain can be as daunting as confronting them in person. Writing a journal can also be intimidating if you don’t like expressing yourself in words, let alone putting words on paper because you have some form of dyslexia or a lack of privacy.

No form of writing is a quick fix when you are dealing with emotional issues. Describing on paper what you are feeling or thinking can be like dumping feelings, leaving you feeling powerless and incapable of changing anything. This makes you feel worse because you are still feeling the same old emotions. You are trying to understand your thoughts. Your feelings are more real and permanent than ever since they are written down.

Writing has little or no therapeutic value when you just dump words on paper. You can be busy doing something by writing or typing to avoid the emotional or spiritual truths in your life. Being busy can be your way of coping. Coping means surviving during a complex time, but there is so much more to life than just being in survival mode.

In a therapeutic process, you are guided, in an emotionally safe environment, to feel and explore emotions. When I encourage my clients to keep a journal, it is never an open-ended instruction to write. I give my clients specific guidelines on how to start their journal of healing. There is always a clear goal that will enable them to identify their feelings and what to do with those feelings in the process of integrating them into the present.

Dumping emotionally charged words on paper about other people in an unregulated manner, like writing a bitter letter in anger, can cause more harm than good to precious relationships. Written words can be just as powerful as spoken words. Once these words are in the open there is no opportunity to take them back.

Dealing with other people and issues around other people in your writings is a different matter altogether which emphasises the need for therapeutic guidance. Trying to access the reasons and motives behind other people’s actions and behaviour is an intricate process. There are many reasons why understanding each other is complex. In the first place, you can’t read other people’s minds. Secondly, you are interpreting a situation from your personal, biased point of view. You are judging others on the grounds of their actions, while you are looking at what you do from the perspective of your intentions. There is a huge difference between actions and intentions.

A guided therapeutic process will help you to deal with the things that cause emotional difficulty. This process will enhance your wellness and wellbeing. Let me help you to share your experiences in ways that work for you. Although writing and talking do work, the goal is to use these tools to put trauma behind you in ways that will help you to become well and whole.


This article is written by Dr Barbara Louw for the Wellness4Wholeness weekly blog. You can find make an appointment with her on www.aquillasa.co.za.