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Harvard Health Blog
Writing as an antidote to loneliness
- By Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, Contributor
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writing has always been a way for me to express my inner most feelings that most people really dont want to be bothered with because they consider them to heavy. yes, some of the most wonderful stories are a blended mix of turning a bad into a good..or finding a sense of humor in something awful but there is also those stories where it is just so sad what has happened that even with a detachment from it a degree of compassion still brings tears to the one it happened to as well as the hard hearted who dont want to be moved to this deeper emotion. these are the ones who instead of being a friend tell you to hire a therapist. i sure have acted as therapist with a number of friends they say successfully and have a few of those friends as well. those who throw you a dagger to bring hurtful feelings out are usually the same that put you down for doing so…get rid of them. the pen is my saving grace. Great article. Thanks.
Great article! I totally agree. I’ve been an instructor of personal essay/memoir writing at the New School and elsewhere forever, and widely published writer of personal essays and books including: “Finding Mr. Rightstein”(memoir) and “Writing From Personal Experience” (how-to/how-I book on writing) even longer.
I offer writing workshops at the Strand Bookstore. https://www.strandbooks.com/event/personal-in-print-nancy-davidoff-kelton
Students in my advanced class–some in their 70s–have been with me for more than a decade and not because they flunked. They are inspired. Excited. Writing better and better. Revising. Getting their work published. And totally thrilled to be engaged in the process. I am, too. As an instructor and as a writer. I feel so lucky. So blessed.
There is a reviving interest in narrative therapy exemplified by Columbia University offering an MSW degree in narrative therapy . I came to psychotherapy from teaching literature at Brown University. All of life is story telling, story listening, so the use of narrative seems obvious to me. I found it inescapable in sessions with clients because the clients were full of stories some or all of which were closely connected to whatever was problematic in their lives. So many works of great and ordinary literatures in all cultures are powerful expressions of unresolved life conflicts and I believe this is true both of Goethe’s works and those of P.G. Wodehouse, Kleist, Turgenev, and all of the clients I have worked with. I was often asked what is the connection between your work as a scholar and teacher of literatures and your later career in psychotherapy. It was obvious to me and so I was delighted to read about the Columbia program. Healing is in part finding endings and beginnings of stories whether we term them bedtime stories or creative writing. I recommend storytelling as a valuable way to begin and to work on treatments of all clients no matter their diagnoses.
An interesting article. This is something I have intended to take up for some time. Are there advice books on how to plan and follow through ?
As you explore options, I strongly recommend Reflective Writting
My late mother, a retired teacher, ran a very successful group for older people where they wrote their life story or episodes and anecdotes from their life. They met twice a month to share their work, reading aloud or handing around copies of their latest writing.
The mood transformation and focus was remarkable. There was a very happy, often excited vibe at the meetings – which also featured a nice afternoon tea.
(In between times some contacted my mother for a bit of encouragement, editing or typing up wavering handwriting. A natural helper, it was something she took pleasure in doing.)
My mother was sometimes approached by adult children to say how much enjoyment and interest it had brought to the lives of a parent who had previously been inactive, lonely or mentally switched off. Some of these people had become very absorbed and enthusiastic writing an account of their lives for their children and grandchildren.
I am sure others have done similar things in their local community centers or retirement villages. But those who haven’t should think about it. With the right volunteer at the helm, it costs very little to run.
Nice I too have been suffering from the lonely Ness and need some help
The AWA, Amherst Writers and Artists, provides writing classes and workshops through their trained group leaders. Google them and find a writing group near you that offers a positive unique experience to all people regardless of economic class or educational level.
You are exactly correct about that. While loneliness is different from depression, many people experience both simultaneously. One benefit of writing and sharing that work with others is that by moving past the stigma of loneliness, those who are struggling not just with depression but with substance abuse and addiction issues can often through those increased positive social connections get the support and encouragement that leads to them reaching out directly to the healthcare system for the mental health assistance they might benefit from.
Responding to Azure, you are asking an important and central question from a public health perspective which is that if expressive writing offers such important “connection” opportunities, how do we best make those opportunities broadly available to all who might benefit? While creative writing groups are indeed available across the country, typically informal and organized by writers themselves, and often sponsored by community organizations, I think much more can be done to expand and promote those opportunities as well as to provide guidance and support to novice writers so they don’t feel intimidated as they expand their writing skills. Its a perfect opportunity for organizations as diverse as YMCA’s and faith-based groups, as well as colleges and universities, libraries, museums and community centers to offer expressive writing workshops and “meet-ups” where the sharing of work can be done in an encouraging and safe setting. Note that these are NOT therapy groups, but rather support opportunities, where people can through writing share their “lived experiences”and thoughts about them with others and feel more connected and less lonely. Our UnLonely Project is actively developing tools and guides that these community-based groups can utilize so they don’t have to be developed from scratch. And YES, these experiences CAN be offered online. Best delivered through a variety of well designed “sharing spaces” that unlike more typical Social Media exchanges invite participants to share and comment on each others work within a “digital community” setting that is supportive and accepting. Hope that helps answer your good questions!
If you’re lonely & have few if any real friends, just WHO is it will you be “exchanging” your “expressive writing” with? “who are feeling lonely and isolated to define, shape, and exchange their personal stories. Expressive writing, especially when shared, helps foster social connections.”
Do explain. Are you suggesting that there are support groups existing everywhere in the US that people can easily attend? Feel comfortable attending? Or are they supposed to do it online? Via “social media” –the isolating media?
This was a great article! Some folks that tend to suffer from loneliness often suffer from depression without even knowing it
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