Writing, Memory and Learning in Therapy

Writing learning and memory in therapy

Writing Impacts Presence
     Developing presence is a key component in trauma resolution and to reestablish relational connections.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  While you are writing, you are using a part of the brain that is different from the part of the brain where you are listening or speaking.  A study from John Hopkins confirms this.

  Tuning in with your ears, your eyes and your energy is essential to developing presence. 

Memory Issues
    On the surface, taking notes during a therapy session makes a lot of sense.  The work done in therapy is important and being able to transfer insights and vital information determined in session to one’s everyday life is crucial. 

    In addition, anxiety and “nerves” can affect one’s memory to recollect information after the session has ended. Certainly, many of those seeking treatment for trauma complain of memory issues.

Processing Unresolved Trauma
    So why might your therapist not encourage writing during the session?  Processing unresolved trauma requires working with your energy field and embodied emotions that are “stuck” as a result of trauma. 

    Understanding your trauma isn’t nearly as important as letting the body integrate unpleasant experiences so that they are no longer intrusive in your everyday experience.

  You can’t fully resolve trauma without building awareness and tolerance towards your inner emotional experience.

Behavioral Change
    Though it’s common to think of therapy as “talking about things,” good therapy is about behavioral change and healing.  Much of this occurs “below the surface” and outside of our conscious awareness.  This is why we can learn a thing, have it make sense, but become hostage to powerful impulses in the moment that not only don’t make sense, but are counterintuitive or even outright harmful.

Defense Mechanisms Block Healing
    It’s hard to resolve trauma without accessing pain moral, embodied or emotional injuries that run deep.  The body is quite adept at contriving defense mechanisms to prevent you from doing so.  In fact, a good deal of therapy is dedicated to identifying and processing defense mechanisms prior to resolving trauma. 

Staying in the Here and Now
    Two common defenses are intellectualization and distraction.  For many, staying in their head keeps them from the distress they associate with being in their body.  Intellectualization isn’t about being intellectual. 

    Thinking and writing can keep you out of your body and in your head.  Also, it’s simply impossible to be fully present and write at the same time. If you want to work on connection, you need to learn how to be present.  Right now. In the moment. Sitting with you and the other and all of the feelings that are in attendance.  

 Picking up that pen can create just the right amount of distance to keep you “safe” from all of that feeling.

 What Part of Your Brain Are You Activating In Therapy?
    At various time during your treatment, your trauma therapist is trying to stimulate the visual part of your brain.  The visual cortex is the part of your brain that lights up when you “watch” your experience like a movie in your head.  You simply think a different way when you write and you also are more apt to miss subtle cues that are part of what we are building to restore relational connection. 

Wiring New Neural Circuitry
    Remember, therapy is about trying to evoke different behavioral outcomes.  To prepare your brain for trauma resolution, we might want to stimulate the part of the brain that allows you to coordinate various brain systems involved in automating new neural circuits.   

    The caudate nucleus is involved in working memory, cognitive function, and your emotions.  It becomes activated with frequently practiced processes.  It seems to play a role in goal-directed behavior, habit learning, attention and choosing actions that lead to positive outcomes.  

 Damage to the caudate nucleus may be involved in hyperactivity, loss of drive, obsessive compulsive disorder and autism.

When Writing Works
    If you can’t relax thinking you might forget what you have learned, bring a composition book to the session and record important information at the end of the session or immediately after.  This will help with your ability to recall and put the information into words that make sense to you.  Indeed, translating insight into action items can help strengthen what you have learned and foster behavioral change. 

    This might also be a great activity towards the end of the session.  If you fear you might forget what you have learned, encourage your therapist to prompt you for your “takeaway” at the end of your session or to spend some minutes helping you recall key insights or summarizing the session. 

Below are some links to information to help you understand trauma on a deeper level:

You can find other soundbites related to well-being, self-compassion and healing here .  Miss your last group session? Check the blog for the latest subjects covered right here.

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