How to use therapeutic writing for empowerment without revisiting trauma

We can put boundaries in place as we write, while attending to our emerging and vulnerable feelings to ensure emotional safety.

Elizabeth Bolton Cartsonas, University of Toronto

Writing about trauma can affect us profoundly.

A 1986 study found that students asked to write about traumatic memories reduced the number of times they visited a health centre for illness, injury, a check-up, psychiatric or other reasons in six months following the study — but that writing about trauma consistently caused emotional and physical upset immediately afterwards.

Such unpleasant after-effects are now widely accepted as part of the healing process enacted through written emotional disclosure.

Amid a global pandemic, our moral distress persists, despite the success of virtual health-care systems. Writing can be a companion to a chaotic mind in ways that do not involve revisiting trauma.

Here are three evidence-based therapeutic applications of writing and three accompanying prompts.

1. Use writing to ground

Therapists advise a method known as grounding for people suffering from distressing thoughts. Grounding entails taking note of physical surroundings to calm the triggered body by rooting it in the present. The “5-4-3-2-1” technique asks you to note five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell and one you can taste.

The technique parallels a writing prompt for “re-embodiment” in the present, from poet and psychotherapist Ronna Bloom. Following the advice of Bloom and trauma therapists, use simple, focused writing to take poetic hold of the present by writing about an object from your immediate surroundings.

Prompt: Find something nearby that excites your senses, like a fruit from your kitchen. Take the object in your hands. Smell it. Rub it against your cheek. Beginning with “I hold” or “I smell,” or any words you like, write for eight minutes on what you have chosen.

A journal sitting on tile with a flower on top.
Writing can be a companion to a chaotic mind in ways that do not involve revisiting trauma.

2. Use writing to find ‘flow’

What does it mean to “live your best life”? Psychologist of optimal experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied where people were, and what they were doing, when they were living their best lives. Subjects reported living optimally while engaged in a fluid, creative state Csikszentmihalyi called “flow.”

Characterized by the ordering of thoughts in service of fluid creation, flow tends to result in an enjoyably focused, resilient state known as “psychic negentropy.” Csikszentmihalyi found those who experienced psychic negentropy regularly, including creative writers, tended to be happier people.

Prompt: For entry into flow, it is wise to select a prompt that promotes guided expansion. The ideal is to increase ease with which we enter flow and decrease distractions that make flow harder to maintain. One way to do this is to revisit a personal memory. Choose something mundane yet fresh, something you do often, with many vivid details that will keep your hand moving and thoughts engaged in the telling. Write until you feel finished.

3. Use writing as a safe play space

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott stressed that play was crucial for child development. Developmental play occurs in a safe, bounded space. In play, children manipulate what Winnicott called “transitional objects” (usually toys, bottles or blankets).

As Winnicott noted, the space for developmental play opens for adults, too, where there is need of healing, often by way of artistic practice. For adults requiring self-understanding, transitional objects can be pen and paper, where writing is the location of bounded, safe, developmental play.

Prompt: Consider a playground for very young children with their caregivers, perhaps with a swing set and slide, within an open, grassy park. Though boundaries like a simple wooden fence surrounding the young children’s playground constitute limitations, these limitations are there to support their safety. In this bounded play space, a child explores, while their caregiver, at a slight distance, is engaged in what Winnicott described as the crucial caring act of creating a “holding” environment, or holding space, for a child — attending to and being present for them, while allowing their expression and exploration.

We can put boundaries in place for ourselves as we write, while attending to our emerging and vulnerable feelings, to ensure emotional safety in the space for developmental play.

Writing with compassionate limitation can be therapeutic and allow expansion in other directions. This means deliberately choosing to direct our focus, topics and energies.

For example, professor of psychology Laura King asked subjects to write about their “best possible future selves” and found these writers showed the same health improvement at six months as people who had written about their traumas did, minus the upset afterwards.

King prompted subjects as follows: “Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.” As King’s subjects did, write for 20 minutes per day over four consecutive days.

If none of the above engages you, write freely and intentionally, keeping in mind that an empowering writing experience will avoid rumination, sustain engagement and leave you with a sense you have spent time meaningfully. Writing-based wellness must meet you at your own points of interest and excitement. Writing that heals is writing that comes forth easily. Consider what topic renders writing therapeutic, for you.The Conversation

Elizabeth Bolton Cartsonas, Assistant researcher, Literacy Education, Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Print isn’t dead: major survey reveals local newspapers vastly preferred over Google among country news consumers


Kristy Hess, Deakin University and Lisa Waller, RMIT University

Newspaper readers in rural and regional Australia are five times more likely to go directly to their local newspaper website than Google or Facebook for local information, and almost 10 times as likely to go to their local news website over a council website for news and information.

Nearly two-thirds of local newspaper readers also indicate policies affecting the future of rural and regional media would influence the way they vote at the next federal election.

These are some of the key findings of a national survey of almost 4,200 Australian country newspaper readers we recently conducted as part of a project to drive greater innovation in the rural and regional media landscape.

Many small newspapers in Australia faced closure after their advertising budgets shrunk during the global pandemic, while others moved to digital-only editions to cut costs.

In our survey — the largest conducted of country press audiences in Australia — we found local newspapers still play a vital role in providing information to residents in these communities, even with the proliferation of news available on Facebook and Google.

This is a significant finding, given how much focus has been placed on the role of the tech giants as a central point for digital news and information.

Australia is targeting Google and Facebook with new law.
Australia’s new law aimed at forcing Google and Facebook to pay for news content has been fiercely opposed by the tech companies.
Mark Lennihan/AP

The federal government recently implemented a mandatory news media bargaining code that forces tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay news producers for content that appears on their platforms.

Last week, the ACCC granted interim approval for Country Press Australia to negotiate with the tech giants on behalf of its 160 newspapers.

This funding is desperately needed to help support publishers of credible, reliable local news who are losing the advertising dollar to social media platforms — but for some, it still may not be enough.

Read more:
As Facebook ups the ante on news, regional and elderly Australians will be hardest hit

Resistance to local papers going online only

Our survey also reveals just how passionate people are about local newspapers in rural and regional Australia — that is, the print version. In fact, the majority of country press audiences (71%) prefer to read their local paper in print than online.

Author provided

Many respondents expressed resistance to their newspaper being made available in digital format only. They offered comments such as:

There is always room for improvement, but if this newspaper went digital, I would not be interested.

And this from another:

The day it goes digital only will be the day I stop reading it.

Our survey also found that respondents overwhelmingly (86%) view a printed copy of their newspaper as an essential service for their community.

Author provided

This accords with our previous research that has advocated for the federal government to recognise the vital importance of the printed paper to regional communities.

While the average age of our survey respondents was 60-61, this demographic will continue to represent a large portion of local news readership for many years.

This means local news organisations need strategies to aid the transition for all audiences into digital formats and/or advocate for the survival of the printed product in the interests of social connection and democracy.

Age NewsSource graph.
Author provided

Locals want a say in the future of their papers

Our survey also found 94% of respondents want a much bigger say about government policies and decisions affecting the future of local newspapers. This finding sends a message to policymakers to rethink their strategies for engaging the public in ideas to support the future of local media.

When it comes to solutions for struggling rural and regional media outlets, our survey found:

  • audiences believe local newspapers should be collaboratively funded by a range of relevant stakeholders (media companies, advertisers, subscribers, social media, government and philanthropic organisations) to ensure their future
  • while some media lobbyists and academics — both in Australia and overseas — have called for newspaper subscriptions to be made tax deductible, 71% of respondents are not in favour of such initiatives
  • respondents also overwhelmingly said any additional government funding for local news should be used to employ more local journalists (71%) over increasing digital connectivity (13%) and digital innovation products (17%).

Read more:
Local news sources are closing across Australia. We are tracking the devastation (and some reasons for hope)

The voices of loyal readers must be heard

Our findings also reaffirm that local newspaper audiences are loyal and develop life-long connections with newspapers wherever they live and work. As an 88-year-old man from Victoria said,

I have always looked forward to the local paper, and whilst the format is now different, it is still a ‘must’ to catch up on whatever is happening in my town.

While there have been Senate inquiries into the future of public interest journalism, media diversity and the role of the ABC in regional and rural areas, the public submissions to these important policy discussions are lacking the voices of local newspaper readers like our respondents.

Read more:
Local newspapers are an ‘essential service’. They deserve a government rescue package, too

This is not because people in the bush don’t care, but because such formal mechanisms are arguably not the best way to engage with and listen to media audiences beyond the major cities.

What is clear from our research is local independent newspapers really matter to their audiences, and many loyal readers are ready to defend them at the ballot box.The Conversation

Kristy Hess, Associate Professor (Communication), Deakin University and Lisa Waller, Professor of Digital Communication, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 Costa Book Awards

The links below are to articles reporting on the 2020 Costa Book Awards (note the latest articles are at the top).

For more visit:

Minimal Posting For the Time Being

I have been unwell lately and struggling a little with my health. This has been the case for the last 30 years, having just passed an unwanted anniversary. I first got sick in 1990, when I was about 21. It has been a hard slog ever since. There are times when it is harder than usual – this is one of those times. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) – the illness that many say doesn’t exist. That is not something people can tell me. It is a terrible affliction and something I would be gladly done with.

The link below is to an article that looks at one particular case (and not all cases are exactly the same by the way) and I think it provides a bit of an insight on the impacts of the illness on people’s lives. It can be very hard – every single day.

So why this post? Well, I’ll be posting on a very limited basis for the time being. I am struggling to get to work each day and frankly that is more important than my Blogs. I still need to pay the bills, put food on the table, etc, and so my ‘hobby’ will have to be pushed to the side a little. I have at times thought that I should just close the Blogs and websites and be done with it – but I really don’t want this illness to steal something else from me. Perhaps one day it will, but not today.

Having a Break

Every so often I get to the point where I feel I just need a break from Blogging and the like, to rest, to regroup, to recharge and to catch-up on work requirements – so that is what I am currently doing. I am physically exhausted at the moment and that often brings on more serious issues with my health (which I am beginning to sense), so the wiser course is to rest for a little – to just ease off for a bit, take the foot of the throttle, etc. So I am taking a break for a bit – I think I’m about 2, 3 or 4 days into it at the moment and when I return it will be a gradual return, not an all in and at it approach.

How long will the break be? That I’m not sure about – there are some pressing issues around my work at the moment, some medical appointments, etc – and these all over the next week or so – which also means the break will be less of a break and more of a short-term refocus I suppose. I don’t expect it to be more than 2 weeks, probably less.

Taking a Break

Hi all – just a quick note for those who are alert and have noticed a lack of posts recently. I am taking a short break to try and ensure continued good health and head off a possible decline (there have been a few recent signs) in it. So currently I need to get a lot of good sleep and rest, so a short break is in order. I do feel I am improving, so the break shouldn’t be too long. See you soon (which isn’t really correctly – Hopefully I’ll be posting again soon).

Moving Break

I will be taking a break from Blogging for the next 2 to 3 weeks. It has become necessary for me to move home and this will be taking place over this period – so it’s packing, cleaning, transporting, etc, for the next few weeks. I may be able to get back to Blogging before 3 weeks, we’ll see how the move all goes. There is a lot to do though.

Situation Update

My trip away has not been great, as I fell ill on the very first day and quickly went downhill from there. I was close to a trip to the emergency department at one stage, though things have now greatly improved. I am currently undergoing treatment and need time to recover fully. So it looks like I will be away from the Blog for another week. Back soon – I hope 🙂