Absolute Must-Reads for Writing as a Way to Heal

Once I discovered the power of expressive writing, journaling and poetry therapy, I went on a binge. A reading binge, that is. 

I tracked down every book I could find on the subjects and though I’ve read through most of them, there are still some on my to-be-read list. That being said, I wanted to point those of you hoping to learn more about the subject to a few resources that really helped me understand the topic even more. 

Personal Accounts


These were the first three books that jumpstarted my journey. I knew, even before I identified the term “expressive writing” or “journal therapy” that the power of words was extremely healing for me. I wanted to read from others who had harnessed the power of words to help them heal through their trauma. What I love about these three books is that they are all written from the perspective of the author discovering this power themselves. It’s a different sensation to witness this transformation and power in a book versus just hearing someone say “Oh, yeah! Writing is powerful.” The proof is in the pudding (or literally, the words). I found all three of these books to be beautiful and informative, but Jen Cross’s Writing Ourselves Whole is my absolute favorite. We share the same trauma and many of the same sentiments. So for me, I related to her on a deep level and I guess I can say that it is her words that pushed me toward this new passion of incorporating writing into my coaching practice. 

Learning from the Pioneers


The deeper I dove into the world of Expressive Writing, the more I wanted to learn about the history and transformation the practice had undergone. I started with the man who helped put a name to the practice and performed studies to back up the claim that words can heal: James Pennebaker. His seminal studies on the health benefits of expressive writing prompted the medical and therapeutic communities to look closer at the method and how it can be adjunctively with the care they were already providing. I moved onto research Kathleen Adams who is a psychotherapist and the founder/director of The Center for Journal Therapy and the Therapeutic Writing Institute (disclaimer: I am currently taking classes to become a Certified Journal Facilitator). Kathleen Adams is a dynamo of a woman and I have come to adore the extensive work she’s done in the realm of journal therapy. She has paved the way for so many individuals to learn how to effectively facilitate these programs for those who may otherwise may never get the chance to experience journal therapy.

Takings Things One Step Further


As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always known the power of words and I have been greedy in my consumption of the words of others. It turns out, I was simply practicing Bibliotherapy without knowing it. Expressive writing and journaling aren’t the only methods by which we heal with words. 

Bibliotherapy, according to Merriam-Webster is:

the use of reading materials for help in solving personal problems or for psychiatric therapy.

Many people assume that in order to find a piece of literature that “helps” or gives “guidance” it must be in the self-help or nonfiction sections. While that’s true for many, many of these books, it’s not the only reading source material from which bibliotherapy can be used. Everything from poetry to fiction to short stories and yes, even blog posts have served as material for bibliotherapy. The only requirement that the material must have is a connection with the reader. What I love about the three books above are that they are all concerned with the same destination (using literature as a way to heal) but come at the journey and process differently. Lucy Horner’s book is a beautiful ode to Tolstoy and though she includes many other literature sources, it’s clear just how much of a hold Tolstoy has over her. I imagine that if I were to write a similar book, mine would be titled something cleverly related back to J.K. Rowling. The Novel Cure is a much broader overview of literature over the past 2,000 years. It reminds me of my late grandmother’s “Little Pocketbook of Pills” book. You would search through the various ailments and illnesses until you found what you were looking for and the appropriate pill would be listed. That’s essentially what The Novel Cure is and though I believe it’s not an antidote for everyone, I agree with many of her assessments on which texts may be helpful for certain life situations. Poetry and Story Therapy takes a more clinical and logical approach to using literature for healing and gives the reader an overview of the theory as well as how to pick and choose certain texts for therapeutic practices. I found it extremely useful when considering how I could “prescribe” reading to my clients.

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This list is by no means exhaustive. As I mentioned, I have upwards of 40 books on this topic, but these are the ones that have stood out of the pack as instrumental in my understanding and education on expressive writing, journal therapy, and bibliotherapy. I hope that you find a few that resonate and help you on your journey as well. If you’re interested in hearing more about these resources or joining one of my workshops, I’d love for you to learn more by joining my mailing list to hear about workshop openings.