What is Transformative Writing?
Transformative Writing is the intentional use of writing for psychological change and well-being. As Shaun McNiff, a leading scholar on the expressive arts, says, “Words become agents of transformation, shamanic horses that carry expression and transport people to change.” Transformative writing also goes by these names: “writing therapy,” “poetry therapy,” “bibliotherapy,” and “journal therapy.”
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Numerous scientific studies by James W. Pennebaker and other scientists have shown that writing affects heart rate, blood pressure, and the immune system. The power of writing from the heart results in stress reduction and the restoration of emotional equilibrium.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved till I set him free,” wrote Michaelangelo. So has each author wielded the pen to liberate the creative spirit within. Each writer has discovered that words have the power to call upon angels and banish demons. Through writing, the self recognizes its identity with greater definition, harvests its wisdom, and wrestles with challenges, transforming them into building blocks of growth.
In Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing, Dr. Sherry Reiter defines ten principles that have withstood the test of time.
THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF TRANSFORMATIVE WRITING
Writing is a form of empowerment. When thoughts and feelings remain formless and invisible, the demon may dance in the shadow of your mind. But when pen is put to paper, and you hold that paper up to the light, your honesty and courage overpowers the dark.If you can reduce the demon to the size of a page, certainly you are much bigger than the problem itself!
During periods of transition humans have always created rituals to give significance to life passages. Rituals offer meaning activities that reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and helplessness. Writing in a journal is a ritual of comfort and meaning.
Writing is about creating an intimate relationship with oneself. Like any intimate relationship, confidentiality, honesty and permission to be in a judgment-free space is required. Safety is a prerequisite for creative action.
Recording your thoughts and feelings is a testament to your life experience. We never see ourselves completely, but when we write, externalization permits you to view your thoughts and feelings. With witnessing, come new observations, reflections, and perspectives.
Every person who writes exercises poetic license and the five freedoms that Virgina Satir wrote about. Writing is self-directed. Words may reveal or conceal. It is the nature of the poetic to be paradoxical and large enough to hold contradiction. “Do I contradict myself? Yes, I contradict myself. I am large I contain multitudes.” Never underestimate the power of poetic license.
VI. VENTING AND CONTAINMENT
Words symbolically leave the person and are transported to a place where they are safely held and may be revisited at any time. Containment is as vital as expression How the words are released, to whom they are released, and how the words are contained all contribute to safety, a sense of mastery and poetic license.
VII. TRANSFORMATION OF TIME, SPACE AND MATTER
The poetic imagination permits us to visit the past, present and future. In writing, we are capable of manipulating time, space and matter. A personal play space is literally created with building blocks of words.
VIII. THE MAGIC OF THE POETIC
If dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, as Freud suggested, then metaphor is the drawbridge allowing us to enter a deeper realm of feeling and thought. Both dreams and poetry use the same psychological principles of imagery, condensation and displacement.
On a psychological and spiritual level, creativity enables us to transcend our limitations. It kindles the imagination, fuels our dreams, and plants seeds of hope that are vital for our renewal. When we write, our natural creativity finds new ways to view ourselves and the world.
X. INTEGRATING PARTS INTO A WHOLE
Therapy is from the Greek word “theraput,” a midwife who originally made way for Psyche’s head, Christina Baldwin writes, “therapy means to stretch one’s limbs or consciousness of opening oneself to the imagery and activity of labor.” When we write we attend to our own labors, and different parts of the self become active. Fragmented aspects are healed. Heal comes from the root word “hale” which means to make whole.
This information is condensed from Reiter, Sherry. (2009). Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press, pp. 5-14