The ‘Write’ Way to Heal

Michele DeMarco, PhD
7 min readNov 12, 2023

Ten practices for transforming emotional pain and re-authoring your life.

Andrew Simboli / Simboli Studios

*Originally published in Psychology Today.

One of the most popular posts I’ve written for my Psychology Today blog, Soul Console, is “How to Make Writing a Sacred Practice With ‘Scriptio Divina.Scriptio divina is a modern twist on an ancient contemplative practice that can help to heal emotional, spiritual, or existential pain.

As I mentioned in that post, as both a writer and trauma researcher, I’m fascinated by the connection between writing (an act), healing (a process), and health (a state). For two upcoming books (one titled the same as this post and the other Holding Onto Air: The Art and Science of Building a Resilient Spirit), I explored 10 approaches to healing writing that have emerged in recent decades, one of which — embodied disclosure therapy (EDT) — I developed, specifically for moral injury; scriptio divina was another approach. It was a fascinating project that comprised extant writing therapies, evidenced-based models, and novel approaches, most of which could be done by oneself and a few that recommend oversight by a therapist. While there is overlap among them, there are also important differences. Here is a brief overview of each.

1. Expressive Writing. Expressive writing, also known as emotional writing, was the original healing writing developed by James Pennebaker and colleagues after research showed that expressing one’s deeper thoughts and feelings through writing can result in significant physical and psychological health benefits, such as better immune and pulmonary function, lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety and depression, increased mood, and being more capable of dealing with social life.

The goal of expressive writing is to write about your thoughts and feelings related to a personally stressful or traumatic life experience. Unlike communicative forms of writing, expressive writing is personal, free-flowing, and informal, typically without concern for style, spelling, punctuation, or grammar. The most salient aspect of the process is to link events to emotions to make meaning and feel better.

Expressing one’s deeper thoughts and feelings through writing can…

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Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com