Is Writing Good Medicine?

Over the years I’ve often referenced the Writing Is Good Medicine® program that I created while a medical humanist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center. Whether in essays for this blog or presentations at medical conferences, I would use examples of patient’s writings to emphasize what may have been untold thoughts and feelings, moving the spotlight from illness to the person. Writing one’s story can bring authority and comfort when the diagnosis was unexpected and unwelcome, resulting in a feeling of “I can do this.” In a sense, the patient holds the prescription pad.

Who says writing is good medicine? For centuries, poets and novelists have viewed writing as a means of transforming trauma, which could lead to healing themselves and others.  And, in the last 30 years, clinicians and social scientists have investigated the ways in which writing promotes health and well-being. What does the research say? In clinical trials, patients in expressive writing groups experienced: increased vigor, less overall sleep disturbance, better sleep quality and less daytime dysfunction. In addition, writing has proven to boost immune system levels and even improves depression, anxiety, fatigue and tension.

In the 21st century writing may provide the low-cost treatment that healthcare managers are seeking in today’s environment of cost controls. But, who among is going to promote pen and paper?

I am. In fact, I’d like to offer a Writing is Good Medicine program to readers.

Remember, these writing exercises are structured to help you clarify and introduce your perspective to healthcare providers, which can serve as reference points for focusing the conversation about concerns and improving communication about supportive needs and preferences for care.

So, how does it work?  There are 3 rules: Write the first thought that comes to mind; forget grammar and punctuation; and do not erase or cross out.

Let’s begin with this exercise.

We hear a patient say, “Every day I wake up, and my whole sense of self has changed whether you want it to or not—you have to think of yourself as different.”

Describe how you feel different since becoming a patient.

Remember the rules noted above. Now, put your pen to paper.

If you’d like, please share your writing in the comment section of the blog.

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