Writing for protection: Reflective practice as a counsellor

Pages 191-198 | Published online: 21 Aug 2006

Expressive and reflective writing has been one way of recording personal changes and losses. It has also been key in surviving the sometimes traumatic work involved in working with clients in psychotherapeutic relationships. This article explores some of the underlying research into writing for personal and professional development with illustrations from both personal and professional life.


Mystery to mastery: An exploration of what happens in the black box of writing and healing

Pages 57-75 | Published online: 26 Jun 2009

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.


Leave one side blank

“When I am in simultaneous process and observation mode, I like to leave the left page of my journal or notebook blank and write only on the right side. Switch it up if you are left-handed. Thus I have a “parking lot” for notes on process that I might come back to for the reflection – or I may just leave them as jottings, field notes that accompany the experiment.”

Kathleen Adams, “Your Brain on Ink”, p.102

Writing the story again, going deeper

“Starting with the same event or moment you wrote about […], go deeper. Place your intention and attention on this story and focus particularly on its meaning: What are the take-aways for you? What is the learning offered you in this experience? How can you apply action that takes steps toward your own healing, growth and change?”

Kathleen Adams, “Your Brain on Ink”, p. 95

Kathleen Adams’ reflective writing prompts

As I read this, I am ∘ aware of. . . . ∘ curious about. . . . ∘ noticing. . . . ∘ surprised by. . . . ■The integrative somatic experience ∘ What happened in my body as I wrote? Where did this write “land” in my body? ∘ Did my handwriting or keyboarding change? ∘ What did I notice emotionally? ∘ Any “aha” moments? Where did I feel them? ■Action orientation ∘ Is there action to take? If so, what? ∘ What is my next step? ∘ How does this learning inform my current reality? ∘ Where can I best place my intention? My attention? My action? ∘ What is one thing I can do today?

(p. 48).

from “Your Brain on Ink”

Meaning of reflective writing

There is growing evidence that resolution of trauma (or its smaller cousin, stress) requires somatic (body) involvement. The reflection write develops the habit of checking in with the embodied experience of writing, a good gauge of how your nervous system is processing the writing.

(p. 45).

When you are present to what emerges on the page by reading what you have just written and writing a few sentences about what you notice, you are developing an observational part of your brain. You are gaining separation from the write itself and taking note of both the process of writing as well as any insights that the writing yielded. What happened in my body as I wrote? Did my handwriting change? Was there a smile on my face or tears in my eyes? Were there any “aha” moments? Paying attention, cultivating curiosity and noticing what emerges as a function of the process of writing is similar to meditation practices that cultivate concentration and invite insight.

(pp. 45-46).

The reflection write is the consummate expressive writing tool for focused attention.

(p. 46).

The reflection write is an exercise in the process of paying attention, particularly if curiosity and compassion are brought to that process. Reflection supports the process of choosing to fire circuits that over time will change our brains in service of greater healing—and, likely, the authorship of a more integrated, coherent story.

(pp. 46-48).

from “Your Brain on Ink”

Embodiment in reflective writing

What did I notice in my body as I was writing? […] When you write, your mind can be scanning/projecting into the future or reviewing/ruminating about the past. Your body, however, is in real time. Tracking the embodied experience of writing helps you stay grounded in the present moment.

(p. 45).

from “Your Brain on Ink”