Writing therapy is an effective method of helping people identify their major challenges, come to terms with their mental health symptoms, and think through their problems in a healthy and productive way. Writing therapy can be a remarkable tool in the treatment of mental health disorders and can play an important role in your overall treatment plan.

But what is writing therapy? How does it help? And what does a writing therapist offer that can help you on the road to recovery?

What Is Writing Therapy?

Writing therapy is a style of expressive therapy that guides clients toward using writing, journaling, and self-expression through the written word as a tool for the therapeutic process. Just as traditional talk therapy is often referred to as the “talking cure,” writing therapy can be thought of as the “writing cure.”

That isn’t to say that writing therapy can cure mental illness, but it has repeatedly proven itself to be an effective method of reducing a number of both physical and psychological health symptoms. Research publications have identified several benefits of writing therapy, including:

  • Reducing depression symptoms
  • Improving anxiety symptoms
  • Improvements in trauma or post-traumatic stress
  • Improved behavioral patterns
  • Reduced behavioral problems

But writing therapy is about more than just engaging in creative or expressive writing regularly. Typically, writing therapists focus the writing process by providing specific prompts and instructions to their clients, designed to help people dive deeper into the source and consequences of mental health challenges through writing exercises.

The Difference Between Writing Therapy and Journaling

When people first learn about writing therapy, they often wonder how the practice of writing therapy is different from keeping a diary or journal. There are a few key distinctions that differentiate journaling and writing therapy.

1. Targeted vs. Free-Form

Writing therapy is typically driven by targeted prompts or exercises provided by your therapist. These help you delve into deeper issues, address underlying challenges, and understand your emotional responses. In contrast, journaling or keeping a diary is typically free-form, with no real goal in mind.

2. Analysis vs. Recording

Whereas a journal or diary is typically a form of history-keeping, recalling the events of the past days or weeks, writing therapy is a space to analyze emotional or mental reactions to recent events.

3. Assisted vs. Self-Guided

The writing therapy process is typically guided and supported by a mental health professional. Journaling is typically self-guided.

Of course, there is significant overlap between keeping a journal and engaging in writing therapy, and journaling itself may carry significant mental health benefits.

But even if you already engage in a journaling practice, starting writing therapy can help you develop skills and tools to help you engage deeper in your writing, focus your effort on mental health improvements, and guide you further on the road to recovery.

The Writing Therapy Process

While much of writing therapy happens on your own time, the process relies heavily on your relationship with your writing therapist as well. Writing therapy starts with meeting with your therapist, who will go over what your specific concerns are, gather any relevant information, and guide you through the entire process.

The process itself can be broken down into three constituent components. Depending on your specific needs and the progress you see from writing therapy, these steps can be repeated multiple times with several modifications and adjustments as needed.

Step 1: Setting Intentions

The first step of writing therapy is setting your intentions for the writing therapy process. This step is a collaborative endeavor between you and your therapist, who can help you differentiate different symptoms or challenges that you think would be beneficial to work on.

For example, a person may come to writing therapy with a diagnosis of depression. Yet, there are several different aspects and symptoms of depression, each of which may be used as a target for a writing therapy intervention. Examples include:

  • Social connection
  • Emotional regulation
  • Motivation
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Sleep difficulties

Your writing therapist will help you determine which aspects are currently having the most impact on your life or which symptoms you’re most ready to work on in this stage of the therapy process.

Then, you and your therapist will collaborate on setting your intentions for what you hope to get out of writing therapy. This typically results in a personalized prompt for what you’ll write about during the next stage.

Step 2: Writing and Journaling

With your prompt in hand and your intentions set, the next step is the writing process itself. This is typically done at home or outside of therapy hours, but in certain cases, it can be beneficial to engage in the writing process during your therapy session.

The prompts provided by your therapist are typically highly focused and intensive. They may ask you to recall a distressing event, an experience when you felt anxious or afraid, or a recent social interaction that didn’t go as you’d hoped. The goal is to dive deeper into these challenges, your thoughts, your emotions, and how you reacted to them at the time.

Furthermore, you might be asked to write down different strategies that you may have used or other ways you could have behaved. By drilling down into the minutia of these situations, you can ultimately begin to understand some of the mental health challenges you face more intimately.

Step 3: Reflection

The final step of the process is analyzing and reflecting upon what you’ve written. While this typically begins on your own, after you’ve written everything you had to write already, it continues in your next session with your writing therapist.

Working with your therapist closely in this phase helps you and them to get closer, unravel the complexities of everyday life, and determine what areas you may be struggling in and where you excel.

This phase often leads to significant and impactful insights about your life that lead you directly to new ways of behaving or interacting with others.

Benefits of Writing Therapy

Writing therapy can have a remarkable number of personal benefits. While reduction in the symptoms of mental health challenges is always the primary goal, writing therapy can offer so much more than statistical improvement.


Putting your thoughts, emotions, and experiences into words has an incredible ability to help you make sense of them. Particularly for people living with disorders such as depression or anxiety, where thoughts and emotions can quickly become overwhelming, putting them into plain language on paper can provide tremendous clarity.

This is due, in part, to having to follow the logical rules of writing itself. Writing about your experiences can connect them linearly, distill where the source of your emotions lies, and help you understand how different patterns can influence your mental health.


The act of putting your thoughts and emotions onto paper can be incredibly cathartic. Completing a writing therapy prompt can feel like setting down a great weight that’s been on your shoulders — as though the emotions drain from your body by simply putting them onto paper.

This emotional release can drastically reduce your mental health symptoms and prevent future rumination about past events. There is an inherent finality to writing about and reflecting upon these writing assignments, as though finally putting your feelings into words helps you to stop worrying, fretting, or feeling negative about them.

Building the Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship has been consistently found to be the most beneficial aspect of any talk therapy approach. But building this relationship isn’t always easy, as many people can feel apprehension or anxiety about deepening their emotional connection with their therapist.

Writing therapy provides a simple pathway to helping you and your therapist build, deepen, and enhance a therapeutic relationship. It provides a bridge that many people need, connecting with their emotions and challenges through the written word rather than being expected to be open and vulnerable in conversation.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll be pushed outside of your comfort level if you’re not ready. Instead, it’s a different and unique method to help build this relationship if talking one-on-one isn’t sufficient to build the relationship you need.


Writing therapy can not only help unravel the complexities and emotions of the past, but help people discover their interests, passions, or ambitions for the future. Writing is an inherently creative task, even when focused upon real-life events, and it can help facilitate the path to building a life worth living in recovery.

This opens up another beneficial aspect of writing therapy. Not all of your writing will be focused on negative events. Some will focus on what brings you joy, what your hopes are, and how you could be spending your time that feels more meaningful and fulfilling.

How Writing Therapy Fits Into Treatment

There are several different ways that writing therapy can fit into an overall treatment plan. This typically depends on your specific diagnosis, the severity of your mental health symptoms, and personal preference in what treatment and therapy you enjoy.

As a Sole Treatment

Writing therapy can be used as the primary intervention for a number of different individuals. These could include:

  • People with mild depression
  • People with anxiety disorders
  • People who are looking for general mental health improvement

Although writing therapy isn’t suggested to be used alone for people with more severe mental health disorders, it can be used with other effective therapy options.

But for people with milder problems or those who have already completed other treatment protocols, writing therapy is often a fantastic, approachable, enjoyable, and effective method.

With Other Treatments

Writing therapy can be used in conjunction with a host of other treatment interventions, including options such as:

Writing therapy can be a powerful tool to enhance the effects of other treatment interventions. The clarity and focus provided by writing therapy can help galvanize other treatment methods, help you build and maintain the tools that you’ve learned in these treatments, and further solidify the improvements you’ve seen from mental health treatment.

Start Treatment at Plus by APN

Plus by APN was built to provide the very best in both traditional and innovative treatment options for people living with disruptive mental health conditions. This includes treatments like writing therapy, as well as innovative psychiatry and neurotech approaches that have shown stunning results in treating mental health symptoms.

The process of getting started is simple. Just call 424.644.6486 or fill out our confidential online contact form for more information. Our team of mental health experts can help guide you toward getting a targeted behavioral health assessment or connect you with treatment options that fit your precise needs.

Breaking free from mental health conditions isn’t always easy. But with the compassionate support and evidence-based approaches offered at Plus by APN, it is possible.


  • Sohal, Monika et al. “Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Family medicine and community health vol. 10,1 (2022): e001154. doi:10.1136/fmch-2021-001154
  • “Writing Therapy.” British Journal for General Practice, bjgp.org/content/bjgp/62/605/661.full.pdf. Accessed 8 Mar. 2024.