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WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING by Louise DeSalvo

WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING

How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

By Louise DeSalvo

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-251519-5

How writing can be used to recover from trauma and as a tool for personal growth: encouragement and suggestions from a professor of literature and creative writing. DeSalvo (Hunter Coll.) is working here from her own experience: a tumultuous childhood, the loss of her mother and sister in adulthood, and severe health problems left her in turmoil that began to calm when she wrote about her experiences (Vertigo: A Memoir, 1996). Years of seeing her students find similar succor has further convinced her of the special value writing holds as a therapeutic tool. It’s cheap, doesn’t take much time, is self-initiated and flexible, can be private (or public), is easily portable, can be done in sickness or in health; “writing to heal requires no innate talent, though we become more skilled as we write, especially when we pay careful attention to the process.” DeSalvo is careful to caution throughout, howeever, that writing mustn’t become a substitute for medical care. DeSalvo refers extensively to James W. Pennebaker’s Opening Up; he and colleagues studied in depth the relationship between writing about difficult feelings and improving health, and then specifically what kind of writing led to healing after traumatic experiences. DeSalvo especially cites Virginia Woolf, Isabel Allende, and Alice Walker as practitioners of therapeutic writing. She argues strongly that writing “is a very sturdy ladder out of the Pit to reach freedom and safety.” Her guide is a reasonable starting point for those who hope she’s right.