The Cathartic Benefit Of Writing - RSA

Blog: The Cathartic benefit of writing

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  • Picture of Neil Chandler
    Neil Chandler
    Techie with a passion for anonymity, security, and open source
  • Mental health
  • Fellowship
  • Technology

We live in an age where technology is constantly advancing and subsequently we are barraged with a seemingly never ending stream of media information. In the midst of this continual input for the brain, there is increasingly less and less time for self reflection and self expression of any significant means. Writing to yourself is nothing new, but it is becoming a key expressive method with proven cathartic benefits for your psychological health.

Catharsis is defined as 'the process of reducing or eliminating a complex by recalling it to conscious awareness and allowing it to be expressed' (Schultz and Schultz, 2004). In psychotherapy, Catharsis is based around bringing repressed emotions to the surface and allowing them to be expressed, normally by a creative medium. The American Psychological Association (2007) associates catharsis with the psychodynamic theory and defines it as "the discharge of affects connected to traumatic events that had previously been repressed by bringing these events back into consciousness and re-experiencing them".

Writing expressively for catharsis is something accessible to almost everyone. You do not need to be eloquent or skilled in crafting a document, you simply need to express how you feel from a subconscious level and let the thoughts flow from your mind.

Why is writing beneficial to your mental health?

Handling hard times:

There are studies that show that writing can be of immense benefit to those who have been through a traumatic event and use expressive writing to come to terms with it and move on. If you naturally express your thoughts during the process of recovery it can exponentially increase recovery time.

A  study into expressive writing and job loss proved that those subjects who proactively engaged in expressive writing were able to find work faster than those who didn’t. The focus that expressive writing allowed the subjects, may have been key to the change in attitude and therefore faster change in circumstance.

The problem with traumatic events is that they can be fragmented by the mind, which is detrimental to mental health as the mind works better when thoughts are ordered and coherent. The use of expressive writing allows the writer to fully express each fragmented thought, look upon the situation in an orderly fashion and gain catharsis from clearing the mind of disrupted memories.

Exercise for your mind:

Writing can be a great tool for increasing the power of the subconscious mind, it makes you think about your expression and can essentially be a work out for your brain. Writing by hand can be a great cognitive exercise for your mind; this article shows the power handwriting can have on cognitive function.

Increased Gratitude:

Focus upon the positive and being thankful for the things that surround you are often seen as a way of improving mental health and allowing the mind’s focus to be redirected towards a more uplifting outlook.

study into the pursuit of happiness demonstrated that subjects who focused their writing upon things that they were grateful for once a week, showed signs of being more positive and motivated about their current situation. When they attempted to do this daily it proved to be less effective, the act became routine and therefore the benefit lessened.

Clarity Of Thoughts And Mind:

When suffering with mental health issues, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by your thoughts and lose focus on things that are important. Expressive writing allows the subconscious mind to unload all the thoughts that have been preoccupying the writer and put them into a coherent structure, not only on paper but also in their mind.

The advent of digital technology means that creativity, expression of thought and society as a whole has taken a step into an electronic world where it is easy to become overwhelmed with information. Reverting back to an essentially analogue method of communication and expression has proven to be a useful and valuable tool for many. Hopefully, the more people encouraged to try expressive writing, the more the benefit will be felt by society as a whole.

With my team, I have created a website:, that allows anonymous expressive writing with the sole intention of promoting the benefits to our users in the hope that we can help those who may be struggling and have no outlet to express how they feel. Writing as an expressive method helped us and we strongly believe that it can help others too.

If you have any questions or would like to contact me, please write to: [email protected]

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  • This article is so meaningful even in 2024. Putting pen to paper to write down your thoughts and expressions in order to clear up your mind is more relevant today than any other time. As a teacher I often encourage my students to express themselves freely via writing which is unfortunately a dying art now. It produces amazing results in terms of de-stressing them. Raj.

  • And because of all that I keep a diary. It's helps me reflect not only on what I did during the whole day but also on how I can change things I am not happy with. And, well, it kind of improves my writing skills if I'm not trying to short words and sentences which significantly benefited my studies since now I don't often run my essays through editing software or read more about essay grading, I simply rely on my gut instinct. But I guess the biggest advantage of keeping a diary is writing down miserable and unhappy moments and forgetting about them. Surely, such things happen in everybody's life and living with them is hard unless you let go and to me writing about them is letting go. Well, I guess writing could be even a good way of healing.

  • Thank you for your comment, I'm very pleased that my post resonated with you.  Writing enables freedom of thought for me, unconstrained by external influences which allow complete honesty and true self expression.  This has proven to be an invaluable method of improving my mental well being and I'm really glad to hear it has helped you too.

    The 29 Days of Writing is an awesome initiative, I wish you all the best with your efforts and if you ever want to share your story then I know it will be of help to others. Best wishes for you and your writing in the future.

  • Thanks for this post, it's true! My anxiety issues were so bad by the end of formal education they were recommending pills to help me cope. That's when I turned my back on formal ed for a while, didn't take the pills, and made space to see what might happen. First I had to discover literature, then writing naturally followed and now I'm confident I'll be able to manage myself in future situations because of the value I now place in the freedoms I need to create. Right now I'm loving the Staffrm 29 day days of writing challenge for February: "The problem with traumatic events is that they can be fragmented by the mind, which is detrimental to mental health" - I'm using the 29 days to pull together memories that I've held onto, to see if there is a pattern.

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