Authors discuss the healing power of writing

Deborah Nedelman

As a clinical psychologist, Deborah Nedelman, Ph.D, often prescribed writing as a therapeutic exercise for her patients.

For most of her life, she has also kept a journal of her own thoughts, experiences and emotions in order to overcome personal struggles.

The act of writing, she explained, can facilitate clearer thinking and an ability to tap into emotions which may be difficult to address verbally in times of distress.

From 9:30-5 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, Nedelman will join fellow author and retired healthcare professional Iris Graville in Northwest Institute of Literary Arts’ first Write to Heal In-depth Session.

The session will aim to provide individuals with the tools necessary to utilize the act of writing in pursuit of improved emotional or physical health.

Jeanne Juneau, marketing director, explained that Petra Martin, program director of the Whidbey Island Writers Association, is also the founder of Whidbey CareNet, a non-profit organization which is dedicated to alleviating stress and trauma in the island’s emergency responders.

Martin recognized the healing effects of writing and approached Nedelman about presenting the workshop.

Unlike the majority of NILA’s workshops, the end-goal of Write to Heal is wellness and recovery rather than publishing.

During the session, Nedelman and Graville will touch on the work of James W. Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who states that there is strong evidence to suggest a link between language and recovery.

Nedelman worked as a clinical psychologist for 30 years before retiring from the profession and pursuing a career in writing. She is an editor and book coach and will receive her MFA from NILA in August.

Nedelman explained that there are quite a few similarities between the two professions, and noted that since beginning her writing career she has gained further insight into the healing power of specific writing techniques.

A good deal of the workshop will focus upon “expanding emotional vocabulary,” and learning to describe nuanced emotions in more detail, rather than using more generic, broad terms such as “unhappy,” “sad” or “happy.”

Nedelman said that she believes the Write to Heal workshop will be especially powerful because it will provide individuals with the tools necessary to think clearly and express their thoughts and emotions through the written word.

“In order to write your story, you need to be able to think. And the process of writing helps you to do that,” she said. “It moves you out of the emotional tangle of trauma and into a place where you can have some perspective.”

“Emotional health has to do with being able to think and feel at the same time in the midst of whatever is going on in your life,” she added.

Graville, who retired from a 40-year career in nursing, has also practiced and taught the art of bookbinding for the past several years. She is also author of “Hands at Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands” and has had a number of her hand-bound journals featured in art galleries.

She recalled that about 20 years into her nursing career, she faced a sort of “personal crisis” due in part to frustrations with changes in the healthcare system. She questioned whether she should continue in the field, and used writing to explore her own emotions.

Graville’s primary focus is in sharing the stories and profiles of individuals, as demonstrated in her book, which features photographs by Summer Moon Scriver.

Graville will be teaching workshop attendees to make their own hand-bound journals, and noted that she hopes these will encourage attendees to continue to write following the session.

“I hope they’ll take away the understanding and confidence that their writing is important and meaningful and can be a helpful tool for them as well as a creative outlet,” Graville said.

Nedelman emphasized that the workshop “isn’t about being a writer per se” but is more about exploring inner experiences.

“It’s about finding a tool that you can use for yourself to further heal,” she said.

Those who wish to participate may register at The workshop costs $210 for Whidbey Island Writers Association Members and $225 for non-members.