Case study

Using writing to promote wellness

A collaboration with a local women’s charity uses writing to enhance emotional health and build resilience through the delivery of a therapeutic expressive writing group.

The issue

Kyra Women’s Project is a York-based charity that provides support for women through a range of courses, events and counselling services. The Project seeks to support women, particularly at times when they are most vulnerable as a consequence of mental or physical health challenges, financial struggles, or traumatic experience.

Kyra provides a safe, inclusive, and non-judgmental environment for women to develop a support network. In response to an identified need and in collaboration with Kyra, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Melanie Forster of the University of York, developed the ‘Writing to Promote Wellness’ group to help strengthen the therapeutic impact of the charity.

The research

Prior research demonstrates that developing a regular writing activity increases experiences of health and wellness. Writing has been shown to strengthen our emotional wellbeing and to increase important self-care activities. It helps us work through difficult thoughts and feelings, as well as provide us with effective strategies for coping with stress and managing difficult times.

The content of the ‘Writing to Promote Wellness’ group sessions was informed by reviewing research on the factors that influence emotional processing and the impact of trauma and significant life events upon emotional wellbeing.

Using this information, the group follows a psychoeducational model that builds upon the knowledge, skills and self-awareness of group members whilst providing practical exercises to strengthen and further consolidate learning and positive change. Group members attend six weekly sessions of approximately three hours each, with each session having a different theme and focus.

The positive impacts gained from in-session writing are furthermore bolstered through the encouragement of completing targeted writing tasks at home.

The outcome

Dr Forster delivers the group each Spring and has led the ‘Writing to Promote Wellness’ group for the past two years. The group provides postgraduate psychology students from the University with a unique opportunity to apply their ‘classroom learning’ into real life.  

Some students help Dr Forster in delivering the therapeutic group through taking part in a work-based placement module, whilst others invite the group members to take part in their qualitative empirical research projects as part of their Masters level qualification.

Because of the open criteria for the group, membership is diverse and inclusive and women have taken part for a variety of different reasons. Regardless of this, the response from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. Group members report experiencing greater wellbeing, a greater capacity for self care, and an increased sense of self efficacy.

They express feeling supported and connected with the other group members, recognising they are more confident in moving forward into the future with greater purpose, and better able to let go of difficult thoughts and feelings linked to past experiences.

Many group members continue to write regularly outside of the group, using the writing process and techniques introduced to help face life's ongoing challenges. As one member explained, “I feel better equipped to deal with emotional issues as they arise and now have tools to use, rather than to bury my emotions. I am not a ‘born writer’, so if I can do it, anyone can!”

“I feel better equipped to deal with emotional issues as they arise and now have tools to use, rather than to bury my emotions. I am not a ‘born writer’, so if I can do it, anyone can!”