Writing: a form of therapy?

A tradition at many universities is the “Primal Scream,” which is when all of the students let loose a blood-curdling shriek at a designated time before exams. Source: stereogum

A lot of people tell me that therapy isn’t helpful. They say that anyone who comes back seeming “improved” or more functional is simply relying on a false, blind happiness that’s been prescribed to them. But is that not to be expected when someone is dealing with something as extreme as death or depression? 

I’ve never taken therapy before; I’ve only heard about it through other people’s accounts of their sessions.

Even if therapy is useful, is it worth the money?

Apart from medication prescriptions, therapists, as I’ve gathered from other accounts, do little more than ask, “how does that make you feel?” and diagnose mental illnesses. Anything else that they contribute, such as a sense of security and confidentiality, can be fulfilled by a dependable, trustworthy friend with big ears.

I wonder about the benefits of writing in replacement, or in addition to, professional therapy. As long as the habit doesn’t feel forced or unnatural, writing can be, in and of itself, very therapeutic, though I’m not sure how it measures up to a professional therapy session.

I came to this realization when I was poking around the internet for writing exercise. One website advised evaluating one’s writing style. I determined that in my private writing, and in a lot of the material that makes its way onto this blog, I do a bunch of routine self-inspections.

I like to keep myself in check to make sure that my priorities are reasonably in line.

In some ways, I consider myself my own therapist, because every journal entry reads as if I were responding to the prompt, “and how does that make you feel?”

In all of my years of journals and free writes, I have never grown tired of asking myself that question.

And just like writing is therapeutic for me, for other people, music might be the key. Or exercise. Or Netflix. We’re all different!

I’m skeptical of professional therapy, but I fear that there may be some big “secret” I’m missing that has evaded me in my second-hand account.

1325) Soon I’m getting a therapist and I’m excited because if I get diagnosed, I feel like my anxiety will be validated. – anxietydisorderconfessions

What do you think?


  1. Pingback: What I learned from keeping a journal, part 2 | Catherine Zhang
  2. Sabina

    Unfortunately, your writing can’t talk back to you, can’t teach you coping strategies, can’t assure you that what you’re feeling is normal (or not normal)–a therapist can do that. I had a brief stint in therapy, and I have mixed feelings about how helpful it was for me in the end. The introspection people can do in writing is super therapeutic for some people, but I don’t think it replaces having a real live person listening and offering a response.


    • catdiggedydog

      I totally respect your opinion, and you bring up a great point, that writing won’t teach coping strategies or be a second opinion/response when you need one. What, then, do you think of a close, trustworthy friend acting in place of a professional therapist?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sabina

        Ooh I’d definitely hesitate to substitute a friend for a professional therapist.
        Potential issues: Even a close friend is likely to sugarcoat their responses. The discloser might have a harder time being entirely truthful. The friend may be involved in the problems and thus can’t be a third party. The friend might feel weighed down by the discloser’s problems. Etc.
        I use my best friend as a sounding board a lot, and she’s good at giving me tough love when I need it and sympathy when I need that too, but if I was experiencing deep issues (ones that might warrant therapy) I don’t think a friend can replace someone who is farther removed.


  3. thefictionalfangirl

    I think it also depends on the person. I know I’d have trouble opening up to a therapist if I needed therapy. It’s much easier for me to write, because no one else needs to see it but I can read it and reflect on what I’m feeling. Still, for some, therapy can be helpful. A lot of the time I think people are pushed or forced into therapy, by parents or friends, and that’s why they don’t get the help they need and can’t open up. If you choose to go, then you are probably going to get a lot out of therapy sessions. In my opinion (or at least for me), writing is just as much therapy as going to an actual therapist.
    Great post!


    • catdiggedydog

      Hey Elle! That actually makes a lot of sense. If people voluntarily decided to visit a therapist, it would be for their own benefit, whereas if they were pushed by their parents to go it’d be more like a chore, or something to check off a list. Interesting point about how a person can use themselves as their own therapist, as opposed to a close friend or a professional. Thanks for reading! Catherine


  4. Ann Koplow

    I’m a therapist, so I have a different perspective on this. But I also think that speaking to a friend, writing, music, art, exercise, movies, and all sorts of other helpful activities are good therapy, too! Thanks for the interesting post.


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