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“Write! Write! Write!”

May 4, 2010

In college I had a class on the history of Christianity in America.  My prof was “Crocodile” Bob Linder.  He had to have been in his seventies, and I’m not sure why his nickname was “Crocodile”; however, I do remember the first day of class.  He arrived with a KC Royals ball cap on, picked up the trash can from the corner of the room, and with a Howard Dean kind of yell tossed the can and contents into the hall.  Needless to say he had the attention of the class, and then with a wry smile on his face he said, “Write!  Write!  Write!”  Crocs driving point was clear, “As historians we must write in order to understand.”

Well, I am no longer in the history field, but as a therapist I still appreciate the wisdom of ole’ Crocodile Bob.  I routinely encourage my clients to write.  Whether it be journals, poetry, songs, or just thoughts on yellow notepads that might or might not ever be looked at again, writing serves as a very healthy outlet.  It forces us to think critically.  It pushes us to compile the jumbled mess of our mind into something coherent.

In fact, I recently ran across an article written a couple of years ago where researchers found that writing can be therapeutic for stressed individuals.  One particular part of the article really caught my attention:

Researchers once believed that the main benefits of writing were purely psychological. But there is new evidence of the health value of forming coherent stories out of the chaotic elements of your personal history. In the Journal of Clinical Psychology, James Pennebaker, Ph.D., and Janet Seagal, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, report that people who write about personal details are healthier than those who don’t.

In one of their studies, Pennebaker and Seagal asked groups of students to write about an assigned topic for 15 minutes on four consecutive days. Later in the year, the students were asked about their health: the students who had written about emotional topics had far fewer doctors’ visits. “Having a narrative is similar to completing a job, allowing one to essentially forget the event,” Pennebaker concludes. Once you take your most pressing memories and put them into story format, “the mind doesn’t have to work as hard to bring meaning to them.”

When I read this I couldn’t help but think about Donald Miller’s latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, where Don challenges us all to live better stories.  Perhaps we should also write about what we are living…

Reduce stress, live with purpose, and “Write!  Write!  Write!”

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