Understanding Your Story – January 2012

Many studies over the last 20 years have confirmed that writing about emotional experience brings increased wellbeing. Broadly speaking, not talking about important psychological phenomena is a form of inhibition causing low-level stress and health problems. Letting go and talking about experience reduces the stress of inhibition. Translating experience into language, spoken or written, can change cognitive and lingustic processes and bring better health.

Yet it is also important to construct and understand your difficult experience. Psychologist James W Pennebaker in his recent book ‘The Secret Life of Pronouns’ says that writing can help you construct a coherent story rather than just spill it out in a disorganised way which causes more long term stress. He continues:

‘If you catch yourself telling exactly the same story over and over again in order to get past your distress, rethink your strategy. Try writing or talking about your trauma in a completely different way. How would a more detached narrator describe what happened? What other way of describing the event might exist? If you are successful, research suggests you will sleep better, experience better physical health and notice yourself feeling happier and less overcome by your upheaval.’

Company Paradiso has, happily, learnt this week that the Arts Council of England has approved our funding for 2012. We will work at the Foyer in Slough for the next four months then in Sussex through to the end of the year. The Foyer houses 64 young people aged 16 to 25 who have no home or have had to leave home. Our project will encourage 20 young people to write about their difficult experiences. We shall, with consent, be analysing some of the writings with a Lingusitic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) computer programme. This will help us judge the effects of the project and also how to work with young people to make it more effective. (By the way, you can analyse your own writing using this kind of programme on Pennebacker’s website www.secretlifeofpronouns.com) In our project we hope that words can be tools to understand and stop disadvantage or trauma limiting life opportunities.