The written record of one's own thoughts, feelings and perceptions, especially of traumatic experiences, can help restore emotional or physical health in that the mind and the body are inseparable in the healing process (Slomski 2001). The person is able to retrieve, externalize and process his or her own trauma by writing about it and psychiatrists and psychologists found that writing or journal therapy plays a significant part in their psychotherapy and recovery programs. Writing about the experience provides the person with a mechanism of expressing it in circumstances where direct or interpersonal expression is not possible or desirable and help bring about healing in the mental or psychological level and then in the physical level.
Psychologists always held that the expression of emotions was essential to good mental and physical health (Slomski 2001). Journals, diaries and biographies have evidenced this. The value of expressive therapy has thus been the objective of numerous researches since the 1980s. Findings showed that journal or expressive writing enhances creativity, helps one cope with stress and provides a record of memorable life events. More importantly, expressive or journal writing benefits those who suffer from psychological and physical illnesses. By expressing their traumas in writing, they can reconcile emotional conflict, develop awareness, regulate behavior, solve problems, reduce or control anxiety, become more reality-oriented, and increase self-esteem (Slomski). It has long been used in the effective treatment of developmental, medical, educational, social, and psychological ailments by mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational and forensic institutions. It is a form of physical and mental or emotional cure that people of all ages, races and creeds can resort to, whether individually, as a couple, as a family or a group, in achieving of the mind and the body.
Journal, writing or expressive therapy allows one to express his personal or hidden thoughts and feelings, especially those considered impossible or unacceptable to himself and, in the process, the reflection, processing and integration of these thoughts and feelings as a whole into the mind-body self (Adams 1999). Writing these down and keeping a record of secret or objectionable thoughts, feelings and experiences enable the person to discover underlying patterns of thinking and behavior that have governed them. The discovery then provides them with the opportunity to change or redirect these undesirable or harmful patterns into desirable and workable ones to improve themselves, their relationships and their lives. The journal or written record of one's own perceptions is something that no one else can write (Adams) and the spontaneous self-detection of one's aberrations and self-redirection away from them represent the most authentic kind of body and mind healing.
The qualities of directness and privacy play specifically significant roles. Confidential but expressive writing allows the person to confront upsetting topics and experiences he would otherwise not share with others, especially the involved persons (Slomski 2001). This reduces the pressure or constraint or inhibition imposed by the situation or condition of not communicating it or talking about it. The stress created by the prohibition or inhibition leads to or aggravates stress-related disease processes. Researchers found that the free and confidential expression of one's thoughts, emotions and perceptions to oneself gives access to, and processes, traumatic memory and this, in turn, produces emotional and physiological change. Merely parting with suppressed or repressed and shameful narratives through writing promotes freedom from, and control over, them. Relieved, the person can evaluate his experience and attitude or perception of it. He can begin to understand it and himself more objectively and reduce negative feelings once associated with expressing it.
Traumatic stress researchers say that traumatic memories differ from ordinary memories in that traumatic memories are largely more emotional and perceptual (Slomski 2001). Traumatic memories are stored as sensory perceptions, obsession-al thoughts or behavior re-enactments, which are accompanied by repetitious, assailing distresses, avoidance and intense anxiety. Treating traumas requires processing these symptoms. Written records or narratives bring concrete specifics of a trauma into greater focus and coherence in a guided environment of healing. In a number of writing sessions, increased improvement has been observed, according to research studies. Overpowering and painful memories that clamp a person are checked and restructured into a more realistic, personal and integrated account of events. These cognitive shifts or changes that occur during or after the writing process or sessions lead to psychological well-being (Slomski).
In a formal health care setting, the therapist gives participants a set of instructions on the length and focus of what they are to write and these include writing in a spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness type, no censorship and no regard for grammar or style (Slomski 2001). Therapeutic writing has become a popular trend in the last decades of the last century not only among health care professionals but also among self-improvement paramedics. Expressive writing has been the subject of seminars, workshops and websites all over the country and continues to gain popularity. Some members of the health community, however, doubt its efficacy on diseased persons after only a few months of writing sessions. Most health care practitioners use it only as an adjunct to standard therapy to illnesses. Nonetheless, a study showed that writing about stressful experiences reduced symptoms, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, after four months on writing therapy that went with standard medical treatment. Findings of the study said that almost half of all the subject patients experienced clinically relevant improvement. Other studies similarly reported symptom improvement in patients with psychiatric disorders. These studies suggested that addressing patients' psychological need for expressing their traumas creatively or through writing had psychological and physical benefits (Slomski).
Journal therapy in the UK focuses on descriptive accounts and psychodynamic explanations of patients' subjective health improvement (Slomski 2001). In comparison, journal therapy in the U.S. derives from formal scientific research, which aims at validating the impact of writing exercises on physical illness. It notes that the reasons or causes of changes in the physical manifestations of illness, which occur after journal therapy, are not always clear (Slomski).
Only licensed health professionals, such as certified art therapy practitioners and trained psychologists and psychiatrists, should conduct journal therapy (Slomski 2001). This is a precaution because a participant may confront certain and powerfully traumatic, dangerous but repressed and painful memories and produce specific symptoms that only a trained professional can handle. The American Art Therapy Association, Inc. regulates educational, professional, and ethical standards of art therapists.
The worth of expressive writing is particularly striking among families who experience relational trauma on account of chronic illness (Penn 2001). Expressive writing of one's will, for example, takes the place of the voice that is lost because of chronic illness. Listening or reading becomes the primary form of care in such cases. Reading and responding to the patient's written or creatively expressed message of his or her lost identity become the way family members assure the patient that his or her identity remains valued. The letter voice is of particular importance to such families as a unique mechanism or situation wherein the patient is allowed to write back in his or her own voice. It functions as an open conversation about the meanings of illness and through which the chronically or terminally ill can send and perceive messages with surviving and supportive family members. These messages convey the meanings of life and death, such as the patient's view of the sky, a landscape that moved him, his willingness to work or the joy of living for one more day (Penn).
Contracts bind and someone suggested that signing a contract with oneself can foster health and longevity (Finney 1986). The contract must first set forth the goal, which must include milestones of achievements; the steps to attain that goal; thoughts and actions that will contribute or hinder the attainment of the goal, short or long-term; rewards or punishments in contributing or hindering the attainment of the goal; setting a schedule for the achievement of the goal; and signing and dating the contract as a commitment. It should be considered a formal or official document. No matter how difficult or complicated a situation, a self-contract is a useful device that can break and manage the difficulty or complexity. It brings a person in direct confrontation with the way he has been living and gives him the opportunity to come to terms with reality.
Writing letters using healthy words dress emotional wounds and fill a void. Everybody gives importance to receiving personal mails (Martin 1995). It is like two people actually meeting in person. Unlike impersonal mass communications, a personally-addressed letter is always exciting. Someone elsewhere is writing something about the recipient and this in itself yields unique value. Because the message is in written form, it is permanent. The recipient can re-experience that unique and lasting value as often as he or she wants.
Writing letters has considerable significance on the part of the creator and sender too (Martin 1995). Written words express one's thoughts or feelings as a unique personality. Handwritten letters or notes say that…