Writing as a Therapeutic Tool

· September 3, 2018

Psychological therapy addresses many different problems, disorders, and personal difficulties. Psychologists who practice psychotherapy (the best-known way to practice “psychology”) have to be very creative when choosing, creating, or adapting therapeutic tools. Each patient needs the right kind of therapy for their individual needs. Writing is one of the most-used techniques in psychotherapy. In this article, we’ll explain why it’s used as a therapeutic tool.

There are different ways of using it as a therapeutic tool. However, they all have the same goal: externalizing what the patient is experiencing mentally, such as thoughts, doubts, desires, goals, plans, feelings, and emotions. Now, writing about all this without any guidelines or professional advice is not necessarily therapeutic. It’s therapeutic when it has guidelines.

What types of people can use writing as a therapeutic tool?

Many patients use it as a therapeutic tool in various situations and for a variety of reasons in therapy. However, therapists recommend the technique for specific patients and problems. Firstly, psychologists recommend this technique for patients who have enough reading and writing skills to be able to handle the task well. In other words, they need to be people who won’t feel anxious about having to write. Also, it should be patients who are capable of writing without experiencing a sense of incapability or inferiority.

In this sense, this means that writing has to be a “safe bet” for the patient. It’s also possible that the patient has the necessary skills but doesn’t believe they’re capable of doing it for a therapeutic purpose. In this case, it’s necessary to work on aspects such as self-esteem, self-concept, and self-efficacy in therapy before turning to writing. The patient can use writing as a therapeutic tool once they have worked on all these issues.


Writing can help with therapy.

Secondly, writing really helps patients who have difficulty verbalizing things that happen to them or what they feel, think, or want. For these people, writing is a way of letting go of what affects them without feeling pressure or shame. Also, writing about thoughts, feelings, and desires is one of the best ways to organize them. By organizing them, the chaos turns into manageable, clear ideas. Therefore, it can be good to use writing as a therapeutic tool for very introverted people.

When is writing used as a therapeutic tool?

Once it’s clear that the patient can do the therapeutic task of writing, we have to adapt the writing to their particular case. Psychologists choose writing most frequently in the following situations:

  • Emotional management of uncomfortable feelings resulting from past events.
  • Traumatic memories.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Preparing for a breakup.
  • Making changes in your life.
  • Finding perspective when facing a problem.
  • Improving self-esteem.
  • Preventing relapses (both in cases of addictions and in anxiety or depression disorders).

In addition to using this tool in clinical psychology situations, that is, where there’s a diagnosis, you can also use it for coaching and personal transformation. This is the best tool to set goals and establish a plan to achieve them. Seeing what you want to achieve on paper and thinking about how to achieve it is also a motivational strategy that allows you to focus on what you really have to do,

What are the most common therapeutic writing tasks?

Writing as a therapeutic tool is used with specific goals. Among the most common tasks, we find three categories: letters, phrases or mantras, and diaries. Letters are really used in psychotherapy. The most common thing psychologists do is ask the patient to write a letter to himself, to someone else, or even to a symptom. The psychologist asks the patient to express everything they think or feel in the letter and then they work on what the patient wrote during a therapy session.

Writing letters can be therapeutic.

On the other hand, psychologists also use phrases or mantras as ways to direct oneself and remember important personal qualities. Phrases and mantras help patients self-motivate or avoid stumbling over the same issue multiple times. In these cases, the therapist asks the patient to write the mantra on a post-it and place this message in plain sight or carry the phrase or message around in their wallet. This is so they can look at it and regain motivation in moments when they might need it.

Finally, you can also use diaries. Every day, the patient writes about a particular topic (which the psychologist carefully selects). Through diaries, the patient can also see for themselves the evolution of their problem, their improvements, and their changes. In all cases, all the content written in the diary must be worked on in the therapy session. For it to be therapeutic, once the patient writes something down, a psychologist needs to work with the patient on it during a session. This is the moment in which they can get the most out of this tool. It’s important to note that the patient doesn’t necessarily feel relief just through writing. It becomes useful usually during therapy when they interpret the things they wrote with their therapist.