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How to use writing as a therapeutic tool: Part II

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October 24, 2013 by Treina Aronson

Part II: Writing exercises

Kathleen Adams in her book Journal to the Self describes how writing “…spreads out before you in black and white the contents of the heart, mind, and soul.” While writing can be quite helpful it is not always easy or painless. Spilling the contents of your soul out on paper is often intimidating and can lead to hours spent staring at a blank page.

Below are some tips on how to get going: 

1. Keep your pen moving and lose control

The self-editor is controlling. The editor says “Wait a minute do we really want to record these first thoughts? That could be dangerous!” Since first thoughts are always dangerous to the editor this culprit will keep the page blank. In addition to the steps outlined in Part I, keep your hand moving while you write. The consistent kinesthetic movement will help keep you connected to your body and quiet down the editor. Replace the editor’s motto with this one: “I’m safe to lose control in my personal writing.”

2. Make writing a ‘practice’ and set a timer

As with anything new one must practice. Commit to daily or weekly writing. Determine an allocation of time and set a timer. When you are beginning set your timer for 10 minutes. This is helpful for those days when the last thing you want to do is write.  Tell yourself “I can make it through 10 minutes.”

3. Write with your non-dominant hand

On some days the editor will be hard at work and particularly persistent. The act of writing while using your non-dominant hand takes concerted effort. Your brain will be consumed with this act, drowning out the voice of the editor.

4. Make a list

First number your page from 1 to 100. While 100 items sounds like a lot, once your pen starts moving it is easy to complete in 10 minutes. Next write a sentence stem. A stem is the start of an unfinished sentence. It looks like this:

“What I fear the most is…”
“Things I want to accomplish are…”
“What makes me most happy…”

You may also use this list to name important events in your life. Your first item may be-

“I was born”

The key to this exercise is to keep your hand moving so you can access first thoughts. It is okay to repeat, in fact, you likely will. Repeated items will only show you what things, themes, or events are truly important to you.

5. Write an Alpha Poem

An alpha poem is a poem written vertically. Begin by choosing a word. The word may be benign or powerful or somewhere in between. If I chose the word “apple” I’d write it like this:


Next use each letter of the word as a jumping off point to write a phrase or a sentence. In this example, “A” would be the start of my first phrase. Again, keep your pen moving.

Alpha poems often have surprising outcomes because they do a good job of accessing first thoughts. Consider your completed poem with curiosity. What was surprising to you?

Tags: journal writing, self-editor, therapeutic writing exercises, writing, writing exercises, writing for therapy,