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President elect for the American Society for Personality & Social Psychology James Pennebaker recently received the Society’s Distinguished Scholar Award on account of his work on the health impacts of expressive writing.

As early as the 1970s, Pennebaker put to experimental test the thesis that writing about your feelings can improve your physical health. And since those first inspiring studies, over three hundred research papers have been produced – a formidable and oft-cited evidence base for the health benefits of expressive writing. For an independent review of the academic literature making up this evidence base, see the Baikie and Wilhelm article listed below.

Intriguing developments have occurred.

King’s College Institute of Psychiatry researchers, for example, have found that

Communication Graphicsignificant numbers of people participating in expressive writing sessions a few weeks before their scheduled operations demonstrate improved immune function. Their wounds heal more quickly.
And, people with breast cancer who practise expressive writing are not cured of cancer but are known to visit the doctor less frequently.

 

    To learn more, see:
  • James Pennebaker
  • For the Pennebaker expressive writing method, see YouTube (But, if you think you may be emotionally or psychiatrically vulnerable, this method is potentially risk-bearing and you should ensure adequate emotional and mental health support is available to you.)
  • 2005 Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing by Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm.  Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 11: 338-346) (for an independent review of the literature up to 2005)
  • 2008 Enhanced wound healing after emotional disclosure intervention by John Weinman et al.  British Journal of Health Psychology Feb ;13 (Pt 1):95-102.
  • And, if possible, listen to BBC Radio 4’s Claudia Hammond’s programme on Pennebaker (first broadcast on 12-04-2013). This is entitled Mind Changers.
A LONELY FURROW COMPANY CAVEAT!
Expressive Writing is not for everyone! As James Pennebaker says, if it hasn’t worked for you after three to four days, try something else. For those few Lonely Furrow Company well-being coaching clients who don’t find writing helps, we suggest going for a walk. Walking is good – so is jogging, swimming, gardening, making music – whatever helps you to change your state from negative to positive!
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This month – in my Memoir & Journaling group – we’ve been concentrating on Dialogues – dialogues with people, ‘work’ activities, and body parts and identities. But a thought occurs: while practising our journaling techniques we are also practising creative writing techniques and vice versa. Without concentrating so hard we’re taking the life out of ourselves, we’re skilling up beyond our wildest dreams. I love the way these two aspects of writing mesh. And the way writing itself can be so good for us!


  1. First buy yourself a notebook – nothing so beautiful you don’t want to write in it!
  2. Take up your pen and write from the heart
  3. Don’t fuss about grammar etc. Keep going – don’t stop to correct or edit
  4. Express and release all those emotions, fears, and anger sloshing about inside. Write and release to avoid the bad effects of keeping these feelings bottled up.
  5. Write until you feel you can’t write any more – write till you’re exhausted of feeling. Don’t be arbitrary eg. Morning pages (3 pages, every morning etc) Write when you feel so full you may burst if you don’t do something!
  6. Use your journal as your sounding board, the counselor in your pocket, say anything you like to your journal – it will not judge you.
  7. Writing in your journal is a way you can safely yell at your ex-spouse  – create the letters you’d like to send but never will. eg to your ex’s new lover, inlaws. This is your arena for a fight.
  8. The only rule is to date each entry  (The Date rule may help in court but will also help you review your progress.)
  9. Use your journal to record any physical symptoms – BP, rapid heart rate, fast breathing, energy level etc This way you are using your journal as a well-being tool.

Who are divorce & separation coaching clients? Well, I think of them as healthy people, capable of action and taking decisions. Not unwell. And not impaired emotionally, morally and mentally by their experiences.  So why do they need help? Because they are in extreme distress. They are very, very sad. And because of that, they may need the support of a coach – even for a short while, just to get them over the ‘bad bit’ so they can envision their futures and start building them. My clients are not ill. They do not need pills or therapies the GP has no time to give them. They are the distressed well. And they deserve to have respect and someone on their side.


Dear Everyone

As well as Advent, the first week in December 2012 saw the first Lonely Furrow Company monthly mailing to a new and exclusive on-line Memoir & Journaling Group.  These mailings contain guidance, hints & tips about keeping a journal (and other therapeutic writing practices), Q&As and discussion quotes.  There are also opportunities for postings by group members (anonymised with a ‘penname’ and real names known only to me, as the group’s professional facilitator). Confidentiality is assured. The group’s function in the reading of postings is to bear witness, not to judge or criticise either the writing or the life of the person who’s posting. And games, assignments and prompts follow weekly.

The system is entirely flexible – with people joining, dropping out when life’s like that, and re-joining when they feel able. And there are only two deadlines involved in the M&J group:

  1. Express a wish to participate by 21st of the month and I can organise the monthly invoice for £10 and put you on the monthly ‘email’ list for the following month. (Prompt payment really appreciated.)
  2. Send anything you wish to share by 15th of the month and your ‘penname’. (Sharing is entirely optional but has benefits.) (I am the moderator for what is included in the posting).


I’d be delighted if you felt you could join us and please do pass on the details of this group to anyone else who could benefit. If you have further questions, of course, contact me via the website (or email: elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com ) and I do hope you feel as excited as I am about this group – which is now a thriving entity.

It even has its own Facebook page for a public interface when appropriate. Please visit and ‘like’ if you can.
Thank you
Kindest regards
Lizzie


Vision Stories may express

  • Personal visions – our own futures 
  • Personal visions – when we  build cathedrals
  • how we want our organisations/our teams/groups/families to perform.

Bear these possibilities in mind, when reading the following story from Armenia. 

King Peter and Millie 

Once upon a time . . .

King Peter of Armenia had a beautiful daughter, Millie. When she was born, he wanted to care and guard her so she would know nothing of the world and never love anyone but himself.  For her sole use – with only female servants and a woman teacher – he had a lovely palace built on a lonely island in the middle of a dark forbidding lake.  This palace had no windows looking outwards and only the king had a key to the outer door.  He visited her once a week, for three hours, on Sundays.

 

But Millie grew up.  And, when she was 18, she began to think for herself.  She knew she had learned about life but only from books. And she knew she was a woman.  But, she wondered, what did that make her father? Fear had kept her servants silent. But, pitying her, her woman teacher brought her a book. And Millie realised she was in prison.

 

So, copying the images in the book, she made a young man out of flour, eggs and butter and milk. And, weeping, she prayed to God for a soul to fill the beautiful young man with Life. The image was given a soul and Millie called him Michael. The woman teacher brought him clothes. Apart from Millie – only she knew of his existence. And the two young people fell in love.

 

Then, one Sunday, they slept over long in the morning, and King Peter arrived.  Millie’s father came upon his daughter with a young man sleeping by her side and was enraged.He had been to so much trouble and expense to prevent precisely this. He ordered their executions.

 

As Millie stood on the block, about to die, she said:  “I made the young man standing beside me – he has no family and no ties. I made him by myself. And this was my wish – I have loved and been loved. If you kill me, father, I have no regrets.”

 

King Peter could indeed find no evidence that the young man was human. So he relented because he truly loved his daughter. In reparation, he gave the young couple a new home and his blessing.  And they all lived happily ever after.

 

Sharing learnings

What are the visions here?

Where is the conflict?

Who changes their vision?

Why is one vision so powerful?

 

Reflective Writing

Write down learnings from this story which you could apply in your daily and professional life?

Consider: 

  1. What is your vision and how do these learnings change it?
  2. What commitments are you making to your vision?
  3. What actions will you take when you leave?

 

King Peter and Millie (from Armenia)

Re-told by Lizzie Gates

Once upon a time . . .

King Peter of Armenia had a beautiful daughter, Millie. When she was born, he wanted to care and guard her so she would know nothing of the world and never love anyone but himself.  For her sole use – with only female servants and a woman teacher – he had a lovely palace built on a lonely island in the middle of a dark forbidding lake.  This palace had no windows looking outwards and only the king had a key to the outer door.  He visited her once a week, for three hours, on Sundays.

 

But Millie grew up.  And, when she was 18, she began to think for herself.  She knew she had learned about life but only from books. And she knew she was a woman.  But, she wondered, what did that make her father? Fear had kept her servants silent. But, pitying her, her woman teacher brought her a book. And Millie realised she was in prison.

 

So, copying the images in the book, she made a young man out of flour, eggs and butter and milk. And, weeping, she prayed to God for a soul to fill the beautiful young man with Life. The image was given a soul and Millie called him Michael. The woman teacher brought him clothes. Apart from Millie – only she knew of his existence. And the two young people fell in love.

 

Then, one Sunday, they slept over long in the morning, and King Peter arrived.  Millie’s father came upon his daughter with a young man sleeping by her side and was enraged.He had been to so much trouble and expense to prevent precisely this.  In a rage, he ordered their executions.

 

As Millie stood on the block, about to die, she said:  “I made the young man standing beside me – he has no family and no ties. I made him by myself. And it was my wish – to have loved and been loved. If you kill me, father, I have no regrets.”

 

King Peter on the other hand would lose everything he valued. Furthermore he could find no evidence that the young man was human. Relieved, he relented because he truly loved his daughter. In reparation, he gave the young couple a new home and his blessing.  And they all lived happily ever after.

 Writing Interventions

  1. Which character do you favour/empathise with? Why? Write the story from this person’s point of view?
  2. Which character do you like least? Why? Write the story from this person’s point of view.
  3. Do you like the ending? If not, why? Write your own ending.

 

 

Group Discussion (In pairs and then full group)

  1. Whose visions are represented here?
  2. Where is the conflict?
  3. Who changes their vision? Why?
  4. Whose vision is most powerful? Why? Could this be changed?
  5. What are the problems in this story which reflect/resonate with issues your clients face?
  6. What solutions could you offer in your professional practice?
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