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Words That Heal

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Words That Heal

By David Servan-Schreiber, Ode Magazine

Has your physician ever asked you to write about the worst day of your life? Probably not. Yet the Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a clinical study showing that writing can have a big impact on physical symptoms.

Patients suffering from asthma or rheumatoid arthritis were asked to describe the most difficult moments of their lives or simply write down their plans for the day. Four months later, patients who spent just 20 minutes a day for three days in a row writing about their problems felt better, took fewer drugs to relieve their symptoms and saw their doctors less often. If a pill could have such an effect after just three doses, no physician in the world would fail to prescribe it to all her patients.

“Writing is a form of therapy,” English author Graham Greene wrote in his autobiography, Ways of Escape. “Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear that is inherent in the human situation.”

But you don’t have to write a novel to be healed by words. Indeed, your words don’t even need to be read. Prescribing story writing for medical purposes is a time-honored way of treating post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive conditions. The obsessive images, the exaggerated emotions and the panic states that accompany them are often improved as a result. The patient’s task is to describe the details of the experience that haunts him or her. The simple act of putting the words down on paper often brings considerable relief. “It’s as if an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” a physician from Kosovo told me after writing about how he escaped from Serbian attacks in 1999.

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Megan, selected from The Intelligent Optimist

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.


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7:38AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012


9:17AM PST on Jan 28, 2012

Great article to read. I used to keep a journal and found it very therapeutic. I had stopped keeping a journal only because of my very busy lifestyle. I am thinking of starting one again. Thanks for sharing.

8:01AM PST on Jan 19, 2012

I always journaled... when I became an adult I quit because I wanted to keep many things from my children's prying eyes... :-) But yes, it helps to write things out.

3:09PM PST on Dec 26, 2010

This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

9:42PM PST on Dec 8, 2010


3:57AM PST on Nov 27, 2010

I have a sketch book and some crayons on my night stand. It is nice just to draw whatever you want, no rules or time limit, it's just you and the paper...

1:22AM PST on Nov 19, 2010

putting you're thoughts on paper gives your brain "time off", it doesn't have to remember everything because it's registered. You can take a distance of it and the next day have a refreshing thought on a problem or whatever is there.

3:40PM PST on Nov 17, 2010


6:09PM PST on Nov 16, 2010

Great advice.

6:32AM PST on Nov 14, 2010

Thank you for posting. Whenever I'm really bothered by something and just can't stop thinking about it, writing about it always makes me feel better. It allows me to organize my thoughts and purge the emotions that are driving them. So if you're not ready to keep a daily diary, just try writing about the big stuff and see if it helps.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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