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How to Use Writing as a Healing Tool for Trauma and Pain

Trauma and pain can take their toll on our health and well-being. In the aftermath of my traumatic event, I have had to deal with both physical and mental injuries. Writing has helped me enormously in my recovery and it is something I have been recommending to others since I embarked on my healing journey. I would therefore like to share with you in more detail how writing can be used as a healing tool for trauma and pain. 

Benefits of writing for healing from trauma and pain

I have shared some of the benefits of writing as a tool for healing in a post I wrote for the PTSD UK organisation. Research shows that writing can improve our physical and mental health outcomes. Expressive writing can positively impact our immune system. Writing benefits people not only with chronic illnesses, such as asthma or rheumatoid arthritis but also trauma survivors and those experiencing mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety or depression.

PTSD is seen as a brain injury and trauma can change our brains. Research suggests that translating our traumatic experience into words can be a helpful aid for rehabilitation after brain injuries. Expressive writing can also improve our sleep, performance, focus and provide us with greater clarity. 

I returned to writing after a decades-long break whilst I was in hospital after my traumatic event. Writing became my therapy after I started to experience flashbacks. I was just glad I could empty my head onto a piece of paper whilst barely able to leave my hospital bed and unable to have any visitors due to Covid restrictions. By capturing my thoughts I was able to go back to them and analyse what I had been feeling and how I was progressing.

By writing for healing from trauma and pain we link our feelings to events through words. This helps us to make sense of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Expressing ourselves is often easier when done through the medium of writing. Knowing that our written words can be stored safely and confidentially can help to remove barriers and enable us to be open and honest since no one will be able to judge us. 

Katy sitting on windowsill looking out of the window on the sea in the background with small boats on it. Katy is holding a pen and a notebook, writing. And on the bottom half is a quote about writing for healing from Katy Parker on Journeyofsmiley blog
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Read also ‘Writing and PTSD: How Writing Is Helping Me to Cope With PTSD – PTSD UK Guest Blog

Five Steps to WRITE

Although there isn’t really a right or wrong way to write for healing from trauma or pain, I found some tips that may be helpful for you too. Whilst researching about therapeutic writing, I found these five steps to WRITE genuinely helpful.

W – what is the topic I am going to write about today? Ask yourself questions such as ‘How do I feel?’ or ‘What am I thinking about?’

When I came home from the hospital, I couldn’t but feel like a burden, so I wrote about it.

R – review and reflect on your feelings. What helped me to focus was removing all distractions, closing my eyes and taking deep breaths. The box breathing technique worked for me and you can check it out here. As you observe your feelings, you can start with ‘I feel…’ or ‘Right now, I am noticing…’

That’s how I began to write about my feelings of being a burden before converting it into a blog post.

I – investigate your thoughts, beliefs and feelings. When I started to write about my feelings of being a burden, I just had to keep writing. When I got stuck, I re-read what I’d written so far. Then close my eyes and take deep breaths to clear my mind before continuing to write further. 

T – time yourself. How much time do you have for writing? Are you able to write for 10 or 15 minutes a day or every other day? Set a timer for it and let your words out.

E – exit by re-reading your words, reflecting on them and summarising what you have noticed or learnt into a couple of sentences. You can write, ‘As I read this, I notice…’ or ‘Now I understand…’

I questioned myself if what I had written was true, kind and helpful. In my case, I realised that whilst I have a burden, I am not a burden myself. And I learnt that I need to show myself more grace. 

Three books on a bed, one of them open and on the cover of the book is written Writing for healing. A closed book next to it with the title Best tips on writing for healing on Journeyofsmiley blog
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Read also ‘Finding Gratitude After a Serious Injury and Healing PTSD Through Writing – MatChat Wellbeing Podcast

Tips on writing for healing from trauma and pain

Self-care – is crucial when writing for healing from trauma and pain. Self-care starts before you have even taken your notebook into your hands. Have a little ritual such as deep breathing, closing your eyes and being present. Develop awareness of your thoughts and lower the volume of your inner critic. Your writing is supposed to be helpful so give yourself permission to slow down or take a break when needed. It is also critical that you give yourself some love after writing. It is totally normal to feel overwhelmed, saddened or depressed afterwards. So, give yourself time to reflect on your words, give yourself a hug and do something nice for yourself afterwards. 

Focus – ask yourself what helps you to focus better. Find the time and space that works best for you. You are writing about your feelings, so make yourself comfortable. Perhaps soothing music or having candles around may help relax you. Minimise distractions and focus all your energy on your thoughts, feelings and writing. 

Keep it private – writing for healing from trauma and pain can take many forms, and it is for yourself unless you decide to share it. Let others know it’s private. Have your writing password protected or your notebook labelled as private, so that no one should read it without your permission.

Date it – it helps to see things in chronological order. I often also add the time to my writing as this can give extra context, for example, if you are struggling to sleep and you can see that you have written something in the middle of the night. Dating your writing means that when you come to look back at it in a few months or years you can see how much you have learnt and grown in that time. Celebrate every tiny victory.

Start and keep writing – after your ‘warm up’ ritual, you are ready to write. Don’t think too much about it, just start and keep writing. Observe your thoughts and feelings. As mentioned earlier it may help to start with, ‘I feel…’ or ‘Today (this and this happened)’… But once you start, just keep writing, don’t let your inner critic hold you back.

Be authentic – I always encourage authenticity. Remember, you are writing for yourself, for your healing from trauma and pain, so allow yourself to be authentic. We have to feel in order to heal. Acknowledging our feelings is also one of the keys to healing I write about in my new e-book that is free for you to access. I returned back to writing when I was in hospital. To me, it was very therapeutic. I had so many thoughts in my head that I needed to empty them. So, I took a pen and a piece of paper and put my feelings down on it.  

Observe your thoughts – it is important that we are honest with our thoughts and feelings as we put them on paper. Don’t edit or re-write what you wrote, and certainly don’t throw it away. When the time is right re-read, observe and learn from your words. 

Do what feels right for you – there really aren’t any rules to follow so don’t worry that you are doing it badly. It’s your writing, and you are healing from your trauma and pain through it, so do what works for you.   

A red rose on a pile of letters on the title is Heal yourself through writing on Journeyofsmiley blog
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Read also ‘Journaling: What Is It and How to Use It For Healing?

Techniques for writing for healing from trauma and pain

You can use any technique that you find works for you personally, whatever helps you the most. I have asked friends who practice writing to heal from trauma and pain what works best for them, and I share my findings with you here. 

Free writing – this is unstructured narrative writing of your thoughts and feelings. You can set a time or word count, but that’s all. Just feel free to write your story. 

Morning pages – as the name suggests, this writing is done first thing in the morning. Some people prefer this as their concentration is better in the morning. It can help to clear their minds before moving on to their daily tasks.

Journaling – is writing for therapeutic purposes and therefore differs from keeping a diary. The main difference is the higher level of structure. You can use prompts, exercises or professional guidance to help you. It is a form of therapy that can be undertaken individually, in a group or with a mental health professional. There are also different types of journals that you can keep such as gratitude journals, well-being journals, grief journals and self-care journals. You can find out more about journaling in my blog post here. You can also download free journaling prompts.

Guide's cover light purple colour with a lady giving herself a hug on the front and the title is Journaling Tips & Prompts by Katy Parker on Journeyofsmiley blog
Download your free Journaling Tips & Prompts

Unsent letters – this is a powerful tool for self-reflection. You can express yourself freely, without holding back, in a way that may not have been possible in direct contact with that person. You decide what you would like to write to that person. For many, this may be about forgiveness, and you never send the letter. Some people prefer to burn it and create their own ritual that helps them to let go and set themselves free. 

Poetry – whilst writing poetry isn’t my strength, I wrote a poem for the PTSD UK Art Competition, and it was published in their book ‘Broken Crayons Still Colour.’ I wrote about my experience with PTSD and the hope for better days to come. The words used in poetry, the metaphors, deep meanings, parables and symbolism make poetry an excellent tool to express our thoughts and feelings. And this can help us to make sense of the world during tough times.

Katy Parker's poem in Broken Crayons Still Colour book published by PTSD UK organisation
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Read also ‘15 Untold Secrets of Art Therapy Trauma Activities

Fiction – can be a powerful writing tool when writing to heal from trauma and pain. By writing fiction you can unload your own struggles, pain and suffering upon the characters in your story. You can write about the things that bother you, that make you question certain beliefs and practices. It can provide you with the opportunity to gain a different perspective, an understanding of people’s motives, emotions and feelings. 

Memoir – writing about our own personal experience isn’t always easy, but it can be key to our healing from trauma and pain. Through writing a memoir, we can make meaning out of our life and our interaction with others. Whilst writing a memoir, it is important that we stay honest with ourselves and stick closely to the facts.     

Autobiography – this is similar to a memoir but covers your life to date rather than focusing on a specific event. Going through your life history gives you the opportunity to notice your behavioural patterns and feelings.  

Regardless of which method you decide to use, remember that you are writing for yourself, and the purpose of your writing is purely therapeutic. You can, however, also share your story with others if you decide to do so. I know how difficult it can be to share our story and show our vulnerability. I, therefore, appreciate it when a trauma warrior is willing to share their story with others and be a part of the PTSD: My Story Project.

Sharing writing about trauma with others

A few months ago, I was interviewed by Canvas Rebel. I discussed the challenges that may arise when writing for healing from trauma and pain. When we write for healing from our trauma or pain, we may often end up in tears. Sometimes, these feelings can come unexpectedly. We might think we have already healed from a particular event, but writing about it can still prove hard. If this happens we need to remind ourselves that this is ok. As a PTSD survivor, I have learned that I need to be gentle with myself and not punish myself for my feelings. Perhaps that’s why I don’t put pressure on any trauma survivor who is willing to share their story on the Journeyofsmiley blog.

When I started the PTSD: My Story Project, I wanted to offer a safe space for trauma survivors to share their stories and so encourage others. I know how difficult and overwhelming writing our story can be, but it is also meaningful and valuable. For writers, it might be very therapeutic, and for the readers, it provides reassurance that they are not alone and that better times will return. 

I believe there is power in stories. And I am so grateful for all the warriors who have been willing to share their stories of healing and be part of the PTSD: My Story Project. If you are a trauma survivor or live with someone who experienced trauma, I would like to invite you to share your story. You have a voice and your story matters! And by sharing your story you can inspire others to do so too. My inbox is always open to anyone who decides to share their story.

A red background and PTSD: My Story Project guidelines on Journeyofsmiley blog
PTSD: My Story Project

Read also ‘What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? My Experience

Healing yourself through writing

It is important to add that you don’t need to call yourself a writer or be a professional writer when writing for healing from trauma and pain. Anyone can do it. The most important thing is, to be honest about our feelings and to put them down on paper as they flow into our minds. If you don’t feel that you are making any progress, stop and review what you have written.

Are you writing about different things, or are you coming back to the same problem time and time again? Do you need to give yourself some time to process your thoughts and feelings before grabbing your notebook again? Are you able to move on from these feelings, or is writing adding to your emotional pain? If so, stop immediately. Give yourself a break, do something that will calm your thoughts and then try again. If your negative feelings persist and in particular if you feel depressed or anxious, you might need to seek professional help.  

If you feel that writing may be the right tool to help you heal from trauma and pain and would like to receive more information about it, subscribe to the Journeyofsmiley Blog or follow Journeyofsmiley, as I will bring more about some of the techniques that can help you on your healing journey.  

I also feel honoured to be invited to ‘The Chronic Pain and Trauma Online Summit’ hosted by The Willow Tree from the 27th to the 31st of March. I will be talking more about writing for healing from trauma and pain. You can use this link to join this free event and find out more about how you can heal yourself through writing. I hope to see you there! 

Picture of Katy Parker, speaker at the Willow Tree Chronic Pain and Trauma Online Summit, free to attend
Click here to join me

Read also ‘Year of Healing: 10 Positive Recovery Quotes

Thank you and till the next blog post,

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23 thoughts on “How to Use Writing as a Healing Tool for Trauma and Pain”

    1. Lacy, I am so glad you like it. I would like to invite you, an avid reader and journal writer, to the free summit, where I will be talking also about journaling. It’s free to sign up with the link above. Hope to see you there!

  1. Writing definitely helped me too I have a password protected journal app on my phone which was an amazing space for me, I don’t use it as much now but I still know it’s there if I need it

    1. Anna, thank you so much for sharing! Journaling is a great therapeutic aid, and I will be talking about it at the Willow Tree Summit in a few days. I hope you can make it and find out more about writing for healing.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Anna. I throughly enjoyed your post. I used to write a lot, but recently, I believe I may have suffered from burnout (not from writing!) – but just life in general! I found it exceptionally hard to concentrate or do anything! If I’d read this post a few months back, it may have encouraged me to get back into it in baby steps! I think as you say, writing even 10-15 mins a day can be helpful. I’m now more or less back to normal, but because it struck me out of the blue, I’m conscious of the fact that I need to look after myself better, so it doesn’t happen again! So, I’m back writing again!

    1. Heather, thank you so much for sharing. Life can often be busy, and we need those encouragements to remind us that we are supposed to be human beings, not human doings. I will be talking at a summit next week about writing for healing; you are welcome to join, it’s free! Self-care is so important, in life as in writing, especially if we are writing for healing. I hope the self-care tips will be of value to you. Baby steps, and we will get there. Take care!

  3. What a great reminder! I will definitely use your tips and start journaling again.
    I’m not sure if I ever overcome my PTSD but I have a hope. I live in Kyiv, Ukraine and constant hiding from russian bombs and fearing for my life 24/7 doesn’t make it easier. I haven’t slept in my bed for 391 days as I am afraid that the windows might shatter during another bombing, so I sleep on a couch with my cloth next to me and my sneakers near the couch, just in case I have to evacuate in the middle if the night.
    I will start journaling tonight. Thanks for your tips!

    1. Tetyana, I am so sorry about what you and your country have to go through. I admire your courage and bravery. It is a great encouragement for others! I hope that journaling can serve you at least as a dumping place for all your thoughts. Take care of yourself, sending prayers!

  4. Love this! I have a passion for writing and as a trauma survivor it has been my outlet for many years. I am a huge advocate of this as a tool for healing. This is such a wonderful resource full of helpful information. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I love this article and can attest to the value of writing and journaling as a way to heal from stress, trauma and anxiety. As a licensed clinical social worker I encourage my clients to journal since it’s a safe space to express their thoughts and feelings. It’s also cathartic when you have a place to store your thoughts/feelings. I wrote more about how to start journaling as a way to heal https://pantearahimian.com/journaling-for-beginners-a-guide-to-reduce-your-stress-and-solve-your-problems/

  6. Love your post, I do agree that writing can heal us from trauma. I also like the fact that you mention that it makes us have a more positive attitude and look on our lives.

  7. This is a valuable post for people. I find writing is so therapeutic, and could really help people! I love your idea about writing un-sent letters, may have to try that 😉

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