Writing is Good Medicine ®

“[Illness] is the great confessional; things are said,
truths are blurted out which health conceals.”

–Virginia Woolf

For centuries, poets, novelists and playwrights have recognized the therapeutic nature of writing. In 1930 Virginia Woolf explored her profound revelations about illness in her seminal essay, “On Being Ill.” She wrote that illness “changes our relationship to the world around us. It enhances our perceptions; it reduces self-consciousness.” Over the past 30 years social scientists and medical researchers have investigated the ways in which writing promotes health and well-being.

What does the research say?

Writing works! Writing about emotionally stressful experiences has been clinically proven to reduce symptoms in a number of chronic illnesses. The act of writing boosts immune system levels and even improves depression, anxiety, fatigue and tension.1 Patients who wrote about their deepest thoughts and emotions had fewer physical symptoms and unscheduled medical office visits.2 A close look at those who benefited most from expressive writing used “cognitive processing words”–“I realize,” “I understand,” “now I see that.” Insights like these help patients with cancer or other illnesses cope better. There are countless studies that support the remarkable short- and long-term health benefits of expressive writing.

What is Writing Is Good Medicine?

WRITING IS GOOD MEDICINE is an innovative system that combines the proven therapeutic benefits of expressive writing with a guided framework designed to help patients better understand and communicate their needs and concerns. The template for this system emerged from Celia Engel Bandman’s work helping facilitate doctor-patient communication in a cancer center pilot program by documenting what patients understood or misunderstood about their diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis. Including this information in the medical record offered the clinical staff an opportunity to review and re-address patients’ misunderstandings or other concerns. The primary purpose of WRITING IS GOOD MEDICINE is to help illuminate the patient’s perspective in preparation for conversations about planning of care.

Since 2006 the Center for Communication in Medicine (CCM) has been developing programs to educate patients, families and healthcare professionals about the importance of clear communication in clinical practice, with the WRITING IS GOOD MEDICINE system at the core of their educational and outreach efforts. With the introduction of the Difficult Conversations Workbook CCM hopes to bring this empowering communication framework directly to patients facing chronic and incurable illness, thereby helping them to secure the information and support they need to make informed healthcare decisions.

 

1 Esterling, B.A., Antoni, M.H., Kumar, M. & Schniederman, N. (1990). Emotional repression, stress disclosure responses, and Epstein- Barr viral capsid antigen titers. Psychosomatic Medicine, 52(4), 397- 410

2 Stanton, A., et al. Randomized, Controlled Trial of Written Emotional Expression and Benefit Finding in Breast Cancer Patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 20, Issue 20 (October), 2002: 4160-416