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By Denise Lima-Laskiewicz, AAC, CRmT 1
Heal Through Words

Introduction to Therapeutic Writing

Words are a very powerful tool! Since we were young we were taught that it is a vital form of communication. We use the written word to communicate our thoughts to others. However not many individuals realize that we can use this method for ourselves. We can use this same process for our own therapeutic value.

Through our own written word we communicate our deepest thoughts in order to help us heal. It is a therapeutic tool for self-healing while we deal with the myriad of situations in our lives. Therapeutic writing can be done in different forms:

  • Writing journals
  • Letter therapy
  • Poetry
  • Creative Writing

In an Assisted Living facility and nursing home environment the same techniques apply. Therapeutic writing is good for the heart and soul. In the group setting you can reminisce about the past by engaging in an enlightening conversation. In it you discover the healing power of words.

Benefits of Therapeutic Writing

Writing is healthy for the heart and soul although it is a little known fact. It is a wonderful therapeutic tool to utilize for simple healing.  It is so simple that it is easy.  All that is needed is a pen and paper.  On this paper you can formulate your thoughts.  Once it is written down, your feelings become a concrete item.  By writing the situation/feelings down you are able to release anxiety that fills your being.  Once your stress levels have lowered then you are able to look at the situation with more clarity. Writing provides the following therapeutic value:

  • Emotionally beneficial
  • Aids in physical recovery
  • It is easy to do. 

Writing not only reduces the emotional stress of the individual but science reveals the benefits to the physical body are profound.

  • According to the 1999 Journal of Medicine Association, “Asthma patients who wrote about difficult situations improved their lung function by an average of 19%. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis patients who wrote about these topics improved by an average of 28%.
  • For those individuals who suffer from epilepsy, journaling is useful for mental stimulation.  It will aid in keeping the mind active.  This is a wonderful tool for independent as well as small activities.
  • In a hard scientific study conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Pennibaker of the Southern Baptist Church, recorded that if an individual writes for 15-20 minutes per day on an especially difficult matter these individuals' immune system will increase.  It remains elevated for six weeks after the journaling episode.
  • Cancer patients who journal benefit because they can enjoy a high quality of life.  Their quality of life which includes, acceptance of the illness, enjoyment of life and relationships, and relationships with family and friends increase as a result of journal work.

There is not a lot of scientific research to support the therapeutic value but there has been a tremendous amount of phenomenal research done to support the benefits of writing.


Fictional Story Writing

To create a fictional story on Memorial Day (for example) ask residents the following questions:

  1. What is the name of the character?
  2. What did you do to celebrate the day?
  3. Where did you go?
  4. Who was with you?
  5. How does the day end?

Then decide on a title for the article.  When that is completed, gather their names so that the facilitator can give the appropriate credit in the by-line.  Once the article is written, read it to the audience while they sit in delight listening to their creation.

Poetry Writing

As a group project it is possible to create a poem by using the client’s ideas.  In the first step ask your clients what is associated with the appropriate holiday that you will be discussing.  Here is a list of possible holidays:

1.       Father’s Day

2.       Memorial Day

3.       Independence Day

4.       Halloween

5.       Christmas

The facilitator starts a line then asks the clients to name a rhyming word.  For example if the line ends in “way”, the facilitator asks the group to name some words that rhyme with the word “way”.  Some words may be day, say, pray or play.  Then the facilitator comes up with a line incorporating their rhyming word as an appropriate ending to the second line. This is done until the poem is complete.  The facilitator then asks the group to provide the poem with a title.  Re-read the poem so that the clients hear it.  The poem can be edited if need be.

Note: It is all right if the poem does not make sense because this is their project. The original intention of this project is for mental stimulation, creativity, and reminiscing but most of all to have fun!

Our Story

Families and friends enjoy knowing about the lives of their grandparents, friends, great uncles, and great aunts.  Through creative writing techniques it is possible to record their client’s biographical history and combine it with scrap booking techniques.  This can be done in a group setting with a facilitator.

The facilitator asks the appropriate question related to the topic at hand.  For example if the topic is Independence Day, the facilitator asks the following questions:

1.      Who did you celebrate Independence Day with?

2.      What did you do?

3.      Did you see the fireworks?

4.      Where did you see the fireworks?

The facilitator may also ask those who are low functioning or have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease the same questions.  However, remember to keep it simple and use open ended questions.  For example:

1.      Do you like Independence Day?

2.      Did you go with family?

3.      Did you go to the beach?

4.      Did you go to the park?

5.      Did you go to a barbecue?

6.      Did you have fun?

Whatever the resident says, record it then write it up.  Type it on stationary that reflects the holiday.  Any office supply store has the appropriate stationary.  Again give the piece a title and the client the byline.

This is a great way to pass on the memories to the family members.  This is a tangible connection to the client. In fact as the facilitator you can combine the stories to create a portfolio. In essence it will be a biography of the client which will be an eternal keepsake for family members.

Denise Lima-Laskiewicz, ADC, ICRmT is the owner of Heal Through Words, a NJ-based Therapeutic Writing program for Nursing Home and Assisted Living residents. Contact Denise at

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