Writers' Group Offers Outlet to Patients and Caregivers

Every Tuesday, patients and caregivers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center give their minds a rest from their usual daily concerns associated with battling cancer – and pick up their pens.

“Writing for your Health” evening writers’ group participants (from left): Rasheen Carbin, Alethea Crandell and Janine Clarke, with facilitator Nancy Morgan

Each week, two writing workshops called “Writing for your Health” are offered for people with cancer and other community members in the Nina Hyde Resource Room. One begins at 11:00 am Tuesday during morning clinic and the other in the evening at 6:00 pm. For the morning session, patients are invited to the Resource Room for a brief demonstration of expressive writing while waiting for their appointments.

On Tuesday evening, patients, caregivers and community members write together for an extended period of time when the cancer center is quiet and conducive to reflection and the sharing of feelings. Sessions are congenial and thought-provoking, allowing participants to try out and hopefully adopt an accessible and inexpensive coping tool they can use on their own. Both classes are always open to new participants.

Sessions begin with a brief introduction to expressive writing and the potential health benefits that have been identified through scientific research, such as reduction in heart rate, pain and symptom awareness, stress and intrusive thoughts, as well as improvement in sleep quality, relaxation, and mood. Each person receives a blank journal, although use of laptops is welcome, too. Morning sessions last from 10 to 20 minutes with flexibility, as participants may be called for their doctor’s appointment during the session. Evening sessions last one-and-a-half hours, allowing more time for writing and discussion of topics related to a particular theme.

Universal themes such as friendship, life lessons and work serve as a creative jumping-off point for writing. A topic is introduced, followed by a related reading to stimulate each participant’s own thoughts. For instance, if the topic is “life choices,” the facilitator might choose to read aloud Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both…

Participants write for five or 10 minutes and are asked to share their feelings about what they wrote and the writing process. Nancy Morgan, writing clinician at Georgetown Lombardi and director of the Arts and Humanities Program, says it is important that it is important that the group not judge one another’s work but rather express appreciation for everyone’s willingness to share their writing ideas.

“Everyone seeks ways to improve their quality of life,” says Morgan. “Managing emotions through self-expression is a critical yet often overlooked health objective. Expressive writing is one method with a proven track record.”

The program is grounded in two decades of studies that indicate writing about thoughts and feelings may result in health improvement, Morgan says.

For more information on this research, click here.

For more information about the writing program at Georgetown Lombardi, contact Nancy Morgan at npm2@georgetown.edu or 202-444-7228.

Author: Nancy Morgan