Therapeutic Writing

Sue’s TED talk

Somebody mentioned seeing my TED talk a few weeks ago, and I was looking for it on my website and realized that I had posted a link to it when it happened, but I’d never embedded it on my site.

So here it is!

My thanks again to the TED talks crew in Stouffville and especially Dr. Jane Philpott organizing this and and librarian Catherine Sword for suggesting they ask me to come as a speaker.

(Note – this talk was done in 2013 – I have now been doing this program for 13 years on a volunteer basis).

Keep Calm and Write On

Writing to promote tranquility and resilience in an anxious age

Bird tattoos come to life, freedom concept


Scope: Thursday afternoons for 6 weeks

Dates: March 24 – April 28

Time: 4 – 6 pm

Call Blue Heron to register: 905-852-4282

$180.00 + HST for 6 classes

For thirty years psychologists have been researching how expressive writing and other forms of writing can help individuals who are experiencing psychological distress. The outcomes of the research have shown that writing down “what distresses and dismays you” can significantly relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Most of the studies have used a protocol focused on individuals writing alone to specific instructions. But more recently research has shown that writing together can enhance the development of the protective processes of self-esteem, self-efficacy, coping strategies, social support, and cultural connections.

Using the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of facilitating writing workshops, research conducted with youth has shown that writing together promotes connection to self through feelings, reflection, and behaviors, as well as connection to others through learning and empathy. Writing in a group using this specific approach facilitates emotional catharsis, increased self-knowledge, coping strategies, and understanding and appreciating of others.

At the Blue Heron Studio in Uxbridge Ontario, starting March 24th for 6 weeks from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. high school-age participants have the opportunity to explore their experiences through a writing workshop conducted in the AWA method.

Intimacy and Solitude – Writing to Transform

with Sue Reynolds

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Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.
— Paul Tillich

Few things in life give us greater heights of joy or depths of frustration, sorrow and anger than do our adult relationships; but satisfying connection is the single most important predictor of health for us as human beings.

This six week course will use focused explorations and writing as a way to explore participants’ relationship to the dual concepts of intimacy and solitude.

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Participants do not have to have previous experience with writing – just a strong desire to engage with the powerful questions that can transform their understandings and experience of both Self and Other.

Facilitated by Sue Reynolds

Susan Lynn Reynolds is a writer, a writing instructor, and a practicing psychotherapist. Her specialty is the therapeutic use of journaling and expressive writing.

6 Weeks – Wednesday October 9th to November 20th, 7pm to 9:30pm  $180

(Please Note:  there will be no class the night of October 23rd).

Cost: $180.00 for the course plus $23.40 in HST.

Please click here to go to the Blue Heron site to register

Sue Reynolds’ TED Talk: “Writing Our Way Out of Trouble”


The fantastic Stouffville TEDx Team: Dr. Jane Philpott, Eileen Nicolle, and Julie Weiss asked me to be part of this year’s TEDx Stouffville, along with 5 other fantastic presenters. The video editing team has worked their magic, and the result can be seen below.

To see the other inspiring talks from that day, please go to the TEDxStouffville website and click on the individual presenter’s names.

Final essay from a participant in “Pen in Hand, Ink on Page”

“Why I Took This Course & What I Will Take From This Course”               

from a participant in the Winter writing course at Blue Heron Books

Let me begin by saying that this writing course has been most enjoyable even though I more or less ended up in this course by default.   I had originally enrolled in a “Learn To Draw” course.  My perception of that course outline was that it was suitable for a rank beginner like myself, who had not had any formal art instruction.   Basic, rudimentary drawing instructions were what I expected—a “How To” course.

Unfortunately, that course was cancelled due to a lack of enrollment so I decided to take a stab at the other drawing course. My expectations and the reality of that course were polar opposites—it was not for beginners!   I’ve read somewhere that drawing anatomy is the most difficult challenge for an artist.  The very first drawing the class had to attempt was that of the FACE of the person standing next to us!  To make matters worse, we were drawing BLIND!  A piece of landscape fabric was placed over each easel so we could not see what we were creating.

The instructor clearly sensed my feelings of fear and awkwardness.  To her credit, she did her best to make me relax and try to think outside the box.  Suffice it to say that the two hours of that class passed by painfully slow.   After each drawing, we examined each other’s work, which I found to quite embarrassing.

A few days later, I asked to transfer to another course.  The “finish what you started” part of my brain was trying to convince me to give it another go.  But the “this is not fun” part won out.  Since I have always enjoyed writing, I thought I should give the Pen In Hand, Ink On Page course a try.  It would be useful to brush up on grammar, sentence structure and when to use a semi colon, etc.   Just one point worried me – I was not sure if we would be required to read a book each week and compose an essay on it.  If a book captures my interest, no problem!  It’s when I struggle to get through a book, for whatever reason, that I would find writing the essay very challenging.  Another appealing fact was that this writing course was offered during the day, a time which I preferred versus evening.  So I signed up!

Although the course was not what I expected, I was actually relieved that it was not – no plowing through required reading.    I was surprised to learn on the first day that the other ladies in this course were actually working on either memoirs or a novel.   Wow!  This was way out of my league.  Fortunately, the instructor (Sue) made it crystal clear from day one that there was no right or wrong way to go about the in class prompts or the essay assignments.  Each time the thought entered my head, “I don’t know what to write”, I would remember Sue saying, “Just let your pen move.  Let your thoughts flow.  Get out of your own way”.   Furthermore, each time a doubt entered my head such as, “My writing will sound so faulty compared to the others”, I was pleasantly reassured by the positive feedback offered by the others and by Sue.  To be honest, a negative thought usually popped into my mind each time we were given an in class writing prompt.  So, here was another benefit to taking this course – it boosted my self-esteem!  That is one thing I will take away from this course and that is something you can’t buy in a pill.

A very fond memory I will take from this course and shall miss, is the time spent listening to the others read their work.  Some of the ladies have a delightful talent in storytelling.  Their intonations can be mesmerizing.  Their writing is often humorous but, in contrast, sometimes very sorrowful.  I have experienced tension and a range of emotions while listening to the readings.  The classes have also given me topics on which to reflect.

Over the past several years, any course I have taken has been something I need, for example, “Intro to Computers” or have an interest in, such as “Nutrition – How to Buy Locally”.  Another reason is for mental stimulation.  Pen In Hand, Ink On Page is a catchy phrase and was both interesting and stimulating.  I am most glad that I took the course.

I will also take away more confidence with regard to undertaking a task.   “Don’t doubt yourself.  Just get at it!”

Brené Brown’s Fantastic Videos about Shame and Vulnerability – Essential Watching!

Crucial data by psychologist/researcher/storyteller Brené Brown. In this TED talk she speaks about how vulnerability is essential in living a wholehearted life. Continue reading

Avoiding Depression by Telling Your Story

First published in “Best of Life – Sept. 2007” To obtain a PDF copy of the published version of this article, click HERE.

by Susan Lynn Reynolds

One of the gifts of becoming older is the wealth of experience and memories from all the years leading up to the present moment. These can be the gift that keeps on giving, however, if you choose to consciously interact with the past.

Statistics of seniors suggest that as many as 20 percent have some form of depression. Many older adults do not seek formal help for depression for a variety of reasons. Help, however, is within their grasp on an informal basis.

Studies with older adults exploring the benefits of “life review” and “reminiscence” were reviewed recently and it was found that a process of life review was as effective as antidepressants or formal psychotherapy in treating older adults with depression. Those who were mildly depressed felt better after a minimum of six sessions of life review; those who were more severely depressed had even more startling improvements. Other studies have explored the benefits of expressive writing in coping with depression and these also have produced significant results.

What all this suggests is that taking the time to consciously engage with and express your personal history is a worthwhile pastime, whether you do it verbally or in a task like writing your memoirs. Doing this allows the individual to integrate, reorganize and resolve past experiences. If you choose to engage with the process in written form, it is also possible to produce a lasting document to leave for other generations. Continue reading

Leaving a Legacy: writing down memories

Click HERE for a PDF of the published article.

The bulge in the aging population has definitely triggered an interest in family history, evident in the increased number of people exploring Geneology, and focusing on writing Memoirs.

Allyson Latta, who teaches memoir writing, says, “A lot of people come to my classes because their parents are aging – there may be a health problem or loss of memory, and my students want to capture their parents’ stories before they’re gone. I always tell them, ‘That’s great. But there’s an irony to that – we never realize that we should be writing things down until something like a parent’s illness triggers it. But the truth is that you should be starting now with your own memoirs, while your memories are intact.’”

Laura Suchan, is an instructor for Trent University in Oral History. She says, “I teach my students that our families are a part of history. We’re taught in public school about public history and social history and sometimes we get the ideas that history is all about politicians and important men. I give my students assignments to get out and interview people and get their stories down on paper. It’s so great when you see the students grasp the idea that personal story is history too – regular people also experienced history and contributed to it.” Continue reading

Expression Helps Banish Depression

by Susan Lynn Reynolds

This article was originally published in Live It magazine in May 2006.

In the mid 1980s, James Pennebaker, a professor in Texas, made a curious discovery.
In a research experiment, he asked one group of students to write about a traumatic event in their lives. Students in the other group were assigned a superficial topic to write about. Both groups wrote for 20 minutes a day for four days. The work was anonymous and confidential. Pennebaker then tracked the physical health of the students through the next four months.

The group that had written about significant traumas in their lives made 43 per cent fewer visits to the doctor. Since those first experiments, Pennebaker and other researchers have continued to expand and deepen the research into the therapeutic value of writing. The results show that writing about emotional topics is associated with enhancement of the functioning of the immune system, lower blood pressure, better lung function among asthma patients, lower pain and disease severity among patients with arthritis, higher white blood cell counts among AIDS patients, and less sleep disruption among patients with metastatic cancers, to name a few of the studies that have been conducted.

Moving from the realm of physical health to mental health, writing about emotional issues has also been found to be helpful in a wide variety of mental disorders, particularly depression.

Researchers and clinicians alike are excited by the robust findings associated with emotional writing, but they are puzzled as to the cause. The original research came about because of research into the effects of having endured traumatic life events such as death of spouses, natural disasters, sexual abuse, divorce, physical abuse, or involvement in the Holocaust. Continue reading

Tips for Doing Expressive Writing

    Write for at least four days, for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. If you find as you come to the end of your 20 minutes that you want to keep going, by all means do so. However, extra time devoted to writing one day cannot replace any part of the requisite 20 minutes the next day.

    You can write about the same event on all four days, or you can write about different experiences. Whatever you choose to write about should be something that you have found to be personally disturbing to you.

    Write without stopping. Once you have put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, write continuously.

    Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

    Acknowledge your emotions openly. Allow yourself to feel and label all the emotions, both positive and negative, associated with the event. Express yourself openly and honestly — you are not writing an intellectual essay here, you are putting your heart and soul on the page. Continue reading

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In the summer of 2013 I was invited to do a TEDtalk on “Shining the light on our Changing Communities”. I talked about the therapeutic writing program I do with incarcerated women. You can view the talk here.

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