Writing to Save Oneself
February 9, 2011 1 Comment
An article published recently in the Los Angeles Times, Test-taking anxiety, indicates that when students write about their anxiety, they tend to perform better. At the University of Chicago, a group of 20 college students were given a math test. In the 10 minutes prior to the exam, one group of students was asked to write down their feelings about the test. The other group sat quietly. As compared to their baseline scores on the test, the group that had written down their feelings improved by 5 percent, while the group that had sat quietly worsened their scores by 12 percent.
The idea that writing is therapeutic, and can even improve performance, is not a new one. It has been utilized effectively in poetry therapy for centuries. The first known poetry therapist was Soranus, a Roman physician who lived in the 1st century A.D. And the same concept is now being implemented in medical schools, as discussed in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Poetry, Painting to Earn an M.D..
The process of writing has much to offer all kinds of people – physicians, patients, bloggers, novelists, musicians, engineers. To pick up a pen and express how we feel is a momentous step in the process of self-discovery and personal growth. Perhaps incorporating writing more into the daily life of physicians and patients could be an effective way to improve communication, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop closer relationships in the hospital setting. From a practical standpoint, this becomes difficult when there is simply not enough time to take a step back from things and write. But if a brief amount of time were allotted each day – even 15 minutes – to writing, that might provide a source of relief for weary minds and downtrodden souls.
The concept of narrative medicine has taken hold at some university hospitals, with Columbia University at the forefront of this movement. The idea behind narrative medicine, at least in part, is to hurt and to heal through writing. The process of taking a blank page and beginning to express all of the grief, life, death, pain, hope, and fear that lives and breathes in the walls of the hospital is a formidable one. It is almost overwhelming. There are so many stories to tell, so many plights to share. But this could bring into the world of academic medicine a fresh breath of air – and a new source of healing.