Expressive Writing Group Experience

| By Paul | | Comments (26)

In the hospital the other day, I had an experience in a group that was quite special. Actually, during this hospitalization, I have had several good group experiences. This one stood out, however.

There were five of us patients who showed up for the weekly "Expressive Writing" group, plus two group leaders. The directive was:

"Think of someone you look up to, real or imaginary, who has taught you something you can use (or do use) in your healing. Describe either the characteristics of the person, what they told you, or how you have been helped. Use expressive writing by telling a story, writing a poem, or anything that makes sense to you."

I wanted to focus this on a motivating statement which has helped me heal. At first, I wanted to write about what Karl Paulnack said about music and heart healing. Then I thought about some quotes by famous people.

But I settled on something that is intensely personal. I think the most helpful, validating, and motivating statement anyone has said to me, has come from my therapist, who from here on in I will call "My Healing Guide." Over a year ago, she said to me in an e-mail:

Having a sense of your kindness and compassion is one of the reasons I enjoy working with you, and it is that compassion that helps you heal. I appreciate that... And I appreciate your honesty. It's our work.

I never really reflected on these words at the time, but I saved them. About a month ago, I revisited the e-mails we shared. These words, in particular, have helped me enormously. They have given me strength to continue on this journey; one that often feels too long and too hard.

I have heard similar words from others involved in my healing, most of them verbal (which get a bit lost). All have been helpful and motivating, though none have ever been said so perfectly. There are also many statements from my family and friends that have helped me too. But, a therapy relationship is unique in that it is focused specifically on healing. And, as such, these words have special meaning to me.

I was prepared to read my statement out loud, but there was a second part to the group exercise. That consisted of each of us picking out one or two words or phrases from our writings and putting them on different colored heavyweight paper using magic markers.

We then placed them on the floor and we read our own. We then were asked, as a group, to arrange them in a line in any way that made sense. The group debated some of the ordering and we went back and forth a few times. We then taped them up on a board, in the order agreed upon, and read them out loud together as a group.

The list was:

Falls aren't important, getting up is
You'll do a better job next time
Try and try again

The only word that appeared twice—came from two different people in our group—was strength. We felt it was important to use that word to bookend the list; strength was felt to be necessary for all of the in between words and phrases to exist.


Nansie said:

That was a neat exercise with the words Paul. I didn't know you were in the hospital again and I hope all went well and you are doing well now. Keep taking care of yourself and enjoy the nice weather we are finally getting!!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Nansie:

Thanks Nansie. Yes, the last two posts here have been made while inpatient. And I'm still here.

castorgirl said:

The passage written by your "Healing Guide" and the results of the group exercise, show how powerful words can be. These give you something to hold onto when, as you say, the healing journey seems too long and too hard.

I'm glad you are able to access people who appreciate you, and can help you on your journey.

Take care,

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Thanks CG. Yes, I know this is a hard time for you and I hope and pray that you will someday have such people to help guide you on your journey, which you cannot do alone.

Austin said:

I like that list and how strength is the beginning and the end.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Austin:

Thanks Austin!

Jennifer Whalen said:

One of the things I like about your writings is this sense I get of your humility in addressing your healing. It comes across as very loving to the self. My brother and I were prostituted out by my parents, and I get a lot of healing from reading about male survivors. My brother passed away about 20 years ago. He never got to heal, or even to begin to address his wounds. So, your healing journey does something for me. I can't explain this rationally, but it is as if other man's healing, somehow makes me feel my brother is healing as well as me.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Jennifer Whalen:

Jennifer, your words touch me deeply. I am very sorry for the abuses you and your brother suffered. And I am especially hurt when I hear stories of survivors who don't make it. Your own healing is the best tribute to your brother. If what I write here helps you, then I am glad to have some small role. Thank you for reading, and I hope to hear from you again.

Paula said:

Neat exercise. I do remember these kind of exercises! I loved your therapist's words. It is not "just" your compassion and honesty, it is that we have the need to heal inside us already. It is just not always to recognize and utilize it. It is great that you have chosen this statement of your therapist because it means you have chosen yourself. GREAT!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Paula:

Thanks Paula. "Chosen myself", huh? Sometimes I do mightily struggle with that. I will tell you honestly!

Paula said:

Yepp, we have all what we need to heal inside. Haha, I do struggle with myself too ;-) But - heya, at least by now I believe there is a me.

Those gems that come from work in the hospital are like diamonds in the dirt to me. I'm glad you got a good one! I like your list and the exercise you did. I would put strength in there twice, too.

Thinking of you while you're in the hospital, Paul.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to marj aka thriver:

Thanks Marj. It just really worked out that two people in the group had the same word, strength, they chose from their writing. Yes, it's so key to everything.

Great exercise, Paul. I used to be part of a meditation group that did a similar word exercise. We would go around the circle and each person would say the first word that came to mind. A person would write down all of the words and arrange them into a sentence to be shared out loud with the group. We got some pretty powerful messages that way. I miss that group. The leader of the group died 4 years ago. She was a dear, dear friend. Thanks for the reminder.

Patricia, Thank you so much for sharing this personal experience here. I hope the reminder was good and not to painful.

Ivory said:

I loved reading this. I am not able to meet in groups, I really wish I could. You are so fortunate that you are able to do wonderful exercises like this one! Thanks for sharing this!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Ivory:

Thanks Ivory! There are so many support groups out there. I wonder how many are based on these kinds of expressive kinds of approaches to exploring feelings? I think art and expressive therapies are great and they are gaining traction for trauma healing. But I'd love to see groups centered around these approaches. Maybe I'll start one!

Kerro said:

Really nice exercise, Paul, and great email from your therapist. I'm really glad these have helped you.

OneSurvivor said:

I like what your healing guide wrote to you. I, too, have seen kindness and compassion in what you write. You really care about others and it shows. I agree that those things are important contributors to healing. There are things that my former therapist wrote to me that are also special and have encouraged me along the way.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to OneSurvivor:

Thanks OneSurvivor and Kerro for your kind words. I sincerely believe we can only heal if we share with others. That will be the topic of my next post here.

katie said:

thank you for sharing this, paul~ expressive writing therapy is my exact interest. it is one of the main things that has brought me healing and i've longed to share this experience with others and hope one day to learn more and be able to participate or facilitate in a group like this. it's just a dream at this point. but it's encouraging to hear that it's out there and other people are getting to do this. i'm so glad for you that you got to have this experience with others. how moving.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to katie:

Sure Katie. Yes, I am learning about all kinds of expressive therapies, of which writing is one. I'm not sure it would work to do a group like this every week. I kind of think mixing it up makes it work. But on an inpatient unit where people come and go so quickly, it works okay. Do let me know if you ever want help in making your dream a reality. Maybe we could do an online group?

katie said:

ooh, what a fascinating idea! i'm a bit scared and insecure right now. but as i continue to build my confidence, i will consider your suggestion. it's exciting to think about :)

Paul Author Profile Page replied to katie:

Katie, I'll drop you an email about it. I've been thinking about various ways of doing this for a bit now.

castorgirl said:

I'd be interested in participating a group like this as well... Something low key and supportive... Well a very shy part of me would... If that would be ok...

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Of course Castorgirl! I wouldn't think of not including you!!!

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This page contains a single entry published on April 11, 2010 8:16 PM.

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