Amputee, trauma survivor and writer Ella Dove explains how the power of the pen can bring mindfulness, healing and a new level of self-understanding
You don’t have to be a writer to find solace in writing. This, for me, was a recent, striking discovery – and something I am now passionate about sharing with others.
When I embarked on a 10 week course in Therapeutic And Reflective Writing with the Professional Writing Academy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As an amputee and trauma survivor and also a journalist and author, I knew I wanted to combine these elements of my life in a positive and supportive manner, and yet it was with trepidation that I began my course. A perfectionist by nature, I worried about not doing the writing exercises ‘well enough’, not producing poetry, for instance, that was worthy of sharing with the group.
However, the learning curve that came from letting go of my preconceptions and my perfectionism was huge. I discovered that when it comes to therapeutic and reflective writing, it is process, not product, that counts. The exercises we did, such as freewriting and timed writing, encouraged digression, teaching us to follow and embrace our thought processes, however fragmented they may seem.
To begin with, I struggled with this. In a job where the end result is what matters, I have a tendency to self-edit as I write, which proved detrimental when it came to allowing my thoughts to flow. I started the course with the mindset that I was doing it to become a practitioner. And yet, I now realise, to do so, one first needs to become an active participant. It’s important to understand the psychology, the impact that therapeutic and reflective writing exercises have on both thought and emotion. I surprised myself on multiple occasions, discovering hidden depths to my psyche that I had subconsciously suppressed, emotions I didn’t even realise were there until I allowed my mind to wander through my pen scratching across the page.
Social psychologist Dr James Pennebaker has been on the forefront of expressive writing research for many years. ‘As the number of studies increased,’ he has said, ‘it became clear that writing was a far more powerful tool for healing than anyone had ever imagined.’ I didn’t fully recognise this before my course. But now, as I embark upon teaching writing for wellbeing workshops, I can see first-hand the healing that the simple act of writing can achieve. Whether for relaxation or mindfulness, or to exorcise the most deeply buried traumas, the toughest of demons, this glorious medium should never be underestimated.
Try it. Write for 15 minutes each day, at a time that suits you, uninterrupted, four days consecutively. Set a timer, and allow your mind free range. Anything you think, you write. And trust me, because I have learnt first-hand, you might just surprise yourself….
Ella Dove is an amputee, writer available to speak on all subjects from disability awareness and trauma to the healing power of writing. She is also available to facilitate writing for wellbeing workshops for private and corporate events. You can contact Ella through The Speakers Collective, or via her website, elladove.com