Prisoner Self-Help

tools for healing, changing, growing

The Writing Ritual

by Andy Hunt

Writing thoughts and feelings about trauma or crises for as little as 15 minutes a day for as few as four or five days has been shown to be correlated with:

  • Improved mental and physical health of prisoners, students, people in nursing homes, rape victims, arthritis patients,  and new mothers.
  • An increase in T-cells (immune system functioning)
  • Increasing the likelihood and rapidity of getting a new job for people who have been laid off 
  • Far fewer visits to the student health center for college students
  • Improved exam results
  • Reduced anxiety and depression

How to do the writing ritual

Write honestly and openly about your deepest feelings and thoughts about the situation you are in or went through. Try to make sure you keep these writings private (though of course in prison it may be difficult or impossible to do so) or you may find yourself unconsciously censoring what you write and diluting the effects of the writing . Consider destroying what you wrote after it is complete, again for the same reason.

Write for a relatively short time, say 15 minutes. This writing is often draining or emotionally difficult. Limiting the time makes it both a bit more tolerable and more likely that you will do it. Write for only four or five days. This time limit seemed to work very well in the experiments that were done. They are not carved in granite, however, and if you find you need more time, you can take it. One of the points of this limit of a few days is again to contain the experience so it doesn’t take over your life.

Try to find both a private time and place to write, ideally when you are less likely be interrupted (though again this may be challenging in prison setting). Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or getting it right. Just write. During the writing days, try to use the same time each day or evening to write. It’s not crucial, but it can sometime give your unconscious mind some structure and preparation time if it knows exactly when the writing will take place. This can also help contain the emotions and intrusive thinking that may occur.

Ignore these guidelines if you discover something else works better for you. Everyone is unique.


Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, James Pennebaker, NY: Guilford, 1990.

The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being, eds. Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua M. Smyth, APA: Washington, DC, 2002.

Bill O’Hanlon, M.S., Possibilities, 551 Cordova Rd., #715 Santa Fe, NM –,

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is


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2 thoughts on “The Writing Ritual

  1. Pingback: Coping with Self-harm | Prisoner Self-Help

  2. Pingback: Prisoners and Psychological Trauma | Prisoner Self-Help

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