In this article, a model of transformation-through-writing will be introduced that helps to explain how a transformative and dialogical-learning process occurs when narratives or poetry are used for healing. We focus in particular on how a “boundary experience” is processed—or how a painful “first story” can be rewritten to become a more life-giving “second story.” We propose that this occurs stepwise in four cognitive stages: sensing; sifting; focusing; and understanding. These stages are explained and underpinned by research on neurobiology, neuropsychology, and on identity learning. The case study used to illustrate this process, focuses on expressive and reflective writing in emotional recovery from domestic violence. To be effective, therapeutic writing requires a safe and enriching learning environment; we discuss how such an environment supports the dialogical self and what considerations a facilitator might take into account when working with a student or client.
“The logs to stoke the fire are added each time I remember and write the cheesecake story, which I’ve done dozens of times, always with intention and attention. I observe myself in the telling, always asking: “What does this story teach me today?” Each time I feel the familiar wash of emotion: exhilaration, celebration, success, joy, connection, the thrill of risk, community. Each time it is inseparable from the cheesecake: I feel the creamy texture against the roof of my mouth, I taste the buttery crumb crust, I inhale the rich aroma of coffee in a thick blue mug”.
Kathleen Adams, in “Your Brain on Ink”, pp.94-95