This reflective piece suggests three phases from therapeutic writing to full-fledged poetry to an audience’s reading and discussion, illustrated with specific examples and commentary. The author, a social scientist, an adult educator and a published poet, begins with the role of writing in her own processing of the painful experience of a family member’s severe mental illness and suicide, showing us her earliest therapeutic writing. She then illuminates a second phase, in which she gives us an inside look at the rewriting process that led to two poems suitable for public display. She considers how the resulting poems might be used for both therapeutic and educational purposes, offering discussion prompts and questions related to the poems.
Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2002 Winter;32(4):428-40.
To assess whether writing with cognitive change or exposure instructions reduces depression or suicidality, 121 undergraduates screened for suicidality wrote for 20 minutes on 4 days over 2 weeks. They were randomly assigned to reinterpret or to write and rewrite traumatic events/emotions, or to write about innocuous topics. The three groups (N = 98) who completed pre-, post-, and 6-week follow-up were not different on suicidality or depression. All subjects reported fewer automatic negative thoughts over the 2 weeks; they also reported higher self-regard but more health center visits at follow-up. Suicidal thoughts may be more resistant than physical health to writing interventions.
Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2000 Spring;30(1):50-60.
To assess if writing projects lessen undergraduates’ grief following a loved one’s suicide, 40 students whose loved one died by suicide in the past 2 years wrote on four occasions over 2 weeks about profound topics (e.g., events and emotions surrounding the death) or trivial topics (e.g., description of the previous meal). All participants completed pre- and posttest measures of grief and self-reported health visits, and 75% completed the same measures at 6-week mailed follow-up. As expected, individuals in the profound condition reported less grief associated with suicide at follow-up than those in the trivial condition. However, the trivial and profound groups were not significantly different in general grief or health visits. Writing about grief associated with the suicide of a loved one appeared to reduce suicidal grief associated with this event. However, this benefit did not extend to general grief or physical health.
Omega (Westport). 2007-2008;56(4):359-67.
In a community-based bereavement writing group, patterns of metaphor emerged and helped the group members identify and deal with particularly challenging aspects of death and grief, including taboo subjects such as abuse and suicide. The metaphors show how a bereavement writing group functioned to address the needs of people coping with different kinds of grief effectively and efficiently. Analysis of the specific metaphors suggests why figurative language enabled the group to bond quickly and strongly, delve into the complex emotions death elicits, and integrate experiences of loss and grief safely and productively. The patterns of metaphors the group produced in their writing about death and grief are discussed in terms of bereavement processes, and the topics the group used to elicit the figures of speech are presented for further refinement and use.