Get on the write track to achieve wellbeing

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy hears how penning your thoughts can free pent-up emotions

Many adults probably remember keeping a diary during their teenage years, or writing poems or prose to express the emotions of those often traumatic times.

If you were one of those people, then at some deep level, you had found a way of documenting and observing your emotions in a way that helped make sense of them. Galway based psychologist Patricia McAdoo firmly believes we should continue writing throughout our lives, to assist us process events and our response to them.

But rather than keeping a diary, she recommends a form known as therapeutic or expressive writing, which has been proven to offer benefits for both mind and body as well as for relationships, she says.

It is writing in its purest form as it’s only for the person who is putting their thoughts on paper, she explains. There is no need to show the work to anybody and nobody is ever asked to critique it – this is just about your thoughts and your observations on your life, written in a creative way.

Writing for wellbeing is not for everybody, she adds, but anyone who kept a diary as a youngster, or who ever doodled down a poem or short story should find it of benefit. Her experience has shown her that even people who hated English at school can take to this process like a duck to water, as it’s not about grammar or style, it’s about expression.

Originally from Cork, Patricia’s background is in clinical psychology and she worked in the area of mental health and mental health promotion for years.

In 2004 she did a Masters in writing at NUI Galway as she had always wanted to write and had kept a journal periodically throughout her life.

Call it coincidence, call it serendipity but after she had finished that Masters, a colleague asked her if she had ever heard of therapeutic writing. Patricia hadn’t, but she was determined to learn more as she realised it combined her two main interests; writing and psychology.

“The idea of developing writing as a way of working with people was natural,” she observes.

To develop skills in this area, Patricia received mentoring from London based Gilly Bolton, a former Research Fellow at Medicine and the Arts in Kings College London University, who had specialised in expressive and therapeutic writing after extensively researching its  mental and physical health benefits. 

Patricia has first-hand experience of the benefits of therapeutic writing, as she has taught it to many cancer support groups in the West of Ireland, including Cancer Care West.

Participants in the Cancer Care West workshops published a collection of writing, The Healing Pen in 2010 and now Patricia has produced an entire book on the topic.

One reason she wrote this book, Writing for Wellbeing was because she had seen the adverse effect of the recession on people’s lives.

“In a recession people feel very powerless and can feel things are outside of their control; their job, their finances, their children’s futures. This kind of writing gives you a sense of what’s happening and a sense of control over that. If you can afford a notebook and pencil you can do it. It’s not a panacea for everything and it’s not for everyone. But a lot of people like writing and it’s good for wellbeing, so why not try it?”

Writing for Wellbeing was a natural progression for her, after almost a decade of giving workshops in this therapy.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.