Narratives of Journal Writing

Narratives of Journal Writing

Jennifer Lynne Bird (Oxbridge Academy, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1931-8.ch009

Abstract

How can writing help people heal? While writing cannot take the place of an evaluation by a trained medical expert, it can help the healing process. The process of writing serves as a valuable resource whether a patient writes about symptoms in a journal to share with a medical professional, a high school student writes about the day's events in a journal to deal with emotions, or an adult writes a prayer in a journal to cope with uncertainty. Regardless of the circumstances which motivated the writer to pick up a notebook and pen or type at a computer, writing releases thoughts and emotions from the mind to the page. When people transfer ideas to paper, stressful emotional events in the mind and physical tension in the body often improve. Therefore, writing can become a catalyst for healing.
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I Just Want You To Know Who I Am

How can writing help people heal? This question served as the motivation for research and also led to discoveries in my roles as a high school English teacher, Stephen Minister at my church, and health coach. While writing cannot take the place of an evaluation by a trained medical expert, it can help the healing process. When a patient writes about symptoms in a journal to share with a medical professional, a high school student writes about the day’s events in a journal to deal with emotions, or an adult writes a prayer in a journal to cope with uncertainty, the process of writing serves as a valuable resource. Regardless of the circumstances which motivated the writer to pick up a notebook and pen or type at a computer, writing releases thoughts and emotions from the mind to the page. When people transfer ideas to paper, stressful emotional events in the mind and physical tension in the body often improve. Writing can therefore become a catalyst for healing.

This chapter uses first person and the method of narrative inquiry to share stories and apply artistic methods, such as writing in journals, to the practice of healing. The theory of narrative inquiry invites writers to own their writing voices and make stories accessible. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) explain, “questions of form for a narrative inquirer are with us from the outset of an inquiry. Even as we tell our own research stories prior to entering into the midst of the field stories, there is a tentative sense of plot. As we engage with research participants and live and tell stories with them, the plotlines under composition are restoried, that is, they are relived and retold. All of these tellings and livings prefigure the narrative forms of our research texts” (p. 165). Narrative inquiry, as a qualitative interpretive form of research, focuses on stories and the finding of narrative threads, or themes, in the stories. Narrative inquiries may include objective data, such as a tally of the number of times events occurred; however, a narrative inquiry also includes subjective data, such as the stories of participants. Consequently, the researcher in the field of narrative inquiry can choose to participate as a participant observer instead of only observing other people. If the researcher chooses the role of a participant observer, attention must be paid to the dual roles. Heifetz (1994) describes the dual roles by using the extended metaphor, “consider the experience of dancing on a dance floor in contrast with standing on a balcony and watching other people dance” (pp. 252-253). Narrative inquirers alternate between the balcony perspective of observation and the dance floor perspective of interacting with participants.

My research into writing as healing began with studying the stories of others during my doctoral dissertation, but expanded when the death of my mom caused me to unexpectedly find myself in the same position as the research subjects I interviewed. My research transformed from just another topic to study to having a larger purpose. My own experiences of how I used writing as healing mean as much to me as the stories of others. The research for this chapter exists as observational research and reflections of previous research projects. It serves as a qualitative interpretive analysis as well as an introduction to writing as healing for anyone looking to explore the concept in their lives.

In this narrative, the practice of writing meets the practice of medicine. This section’s title, I Just Want You to Know Who I Am, is a line from the song Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. It also describes how patients feel when seeking help: They want someone to know their stories. When seeking medical treatment, a patient wants to feel like his or her story is being heard and the medical provider sees a person and not just a name on a chart. Rankin (2015b) advises that despite demands from a sometimes frustrating medical system, those practicing medicine need to take the time to look their patients in the eyes and not stand with a hand on the door to the exam room because, “just as healers must stand up and reclaim the lineage of their professions, patients must reclaim their own power, standing up with their autonomy, their intuition, their willingness to question and participate in changing the system from within, and their vote. It all starts with change at the level of the healer-patient relationship” (p. 238). This narrative will explore the value of writing and how writing can be applied to the field of medicine to help people heal. Whether a patient talks to a health coach, receives prayers from a Stephen Minister, or writes in a journal, the important thing is that the patient feels the story is heard.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Writing Prompts: Questions used as starters to encourage writers to develop ideas.

Self-Compassion: The act of demonstrating the same kindness for oneself that one would demonstrate for other people.

Spirituality: Regardless of religion, spirituality and a belief in a higher power can lead to increased health and provide both hope and strength.

Journal Writing: The process of responding to prompts and writing about thoughts and feelings. While journal writing is typically associated with writing classrooms, writing teachers including Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg advocate that journal writing can be done by anyone, anywhere.

Expressive Writing: Writing that is exploratory and focuses on meaning and first impressions.

Writing as Healing: Numerous studies have been conducted investigating the influence of writing on physical and emotional health. James Pennebaker is a leader in the field which explores the health benefits of writing.

Medical Professionals: People in the medical profession such as primary care doctors, specialists, physical therapists, and emotional therapists. Medical doctors Hilary Tindle and Lissa Rankin discuss that patients experience improved health when they have a positive outlook and a willingness to share their stories with their doctors.

Pain Journal: A journal describing symptoms designed to be shown to a medical professional.

Anxiety: Different clinicians have different definitions of anxiety, and a person who lives with anxiety will describe it from a different point of view than a clinical definition in a textbook, but the general definition of anxiety is chronic fear or stress that can result in panic attacks and a person feeling an inability to cope with life’s stresses.

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