Writing is therapy. Many clients bring us stories of abuse, addictions, trauma, illness, crime and regrets. They also bring stories of redemption and victory over challenges. Their memoirs are self-help, healing therapy.
When most people think of ghostwriting, they probably think first of celebrity biographies. They don’t usually think of writing therapy.
But a lot of non-celebrities come to us seeking to tell their stories. They don’t usually envisage writing a best seller. They just want the therapeutic benefits of “getting it off their chests” and “putting it down in words”.
Biography is the top category of ghostwriting requests we receive, and the vast majority relate to abuse, addiction and mental health issues.
Seeking therapy by telling stories of grief and trauma
Here are a few examples of the requests we get on our query form.
“My book is about family, relationships, abuse. It’s a self help non fiction book. Target audience is women .”
“I grew up in a family of 12 siblings. I went to Vietnam, came home a heroin addict. Struggled with being sexually abused as a 12-year old to the point of severing my penis. I was married and divorced with 4 Children. Spent time in prison mental hospitals, rehabs and homeless. I am 69 now sober and living a life of gratitude. Been sober 12 years.”
“Biography, sensitive content, struggle with abuse, addiction, and the eventual rise above it.”
“I want my own autobiography. I used to love to write, but I can’t stay close to one memory or phase that doesn’t bring me to another part of my life that reminds me of something else and my life has been very eventful. From sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. Two times I nearly died, car accident and someone set me on fire. Alcoholism, drug addiction and more.”
“I want my story written so others like my history won’t make the same costly mistakes.
I went from a low self esteemed fearful child, youngest of 5, to being estranged from my mom and my siblings for over 10 years now because of my want to being loved by a man. I did anything to buy that love, went to prison to losing that guy due to emotional abuse etc.
I am now estranged from my daughter and her boyfriend for 14 months now and she just had a baby whom I’ll never meet. Again, I just wanted to be loved by my partner who doesn’t really work.
I’m on disability now. When Covid hit, being confined in an apartment with my daughter and her boyfriend was emotional. I turned to gambling and I used their personal information to collect money from the government just to make my partner happy and maybe love me more. Stupid me, I actually believed because the money went in my bank account that my daughter and her boyfriend wouldn’t get the T4. Well, my daughter got it, was so upset and I immediately told her it was me. I got thrown out of the apartment, told they wanted nothing to do with me ever again. I have confessed to the government and working on payment arrangements. I have chronic depression, anxiety, impulse control disorder, borderline personality disorder, not the explosive type. When this recently happened I realized I need professional help.
I am unfortunately stuck living with the partner and his mom in a 2 bedroom apartment. He doesn’t care what I’m going through even though I gave him most of the money. I cannot afford to rent a bedroom or apartment myself due to being on disability. Because I don’t want to be here, I actually stay up 8 pm to 8 am and sleep from 8 am to 8 pm.
I’m stuck. I’ve done online behaviour therapy. I now recognize his guilt trips and I have learned from all life’s mistakes and if I can help another person not to ruin their life like I have, I’d be so happy.”
Therapeutic writing creates useful self-help books
Mary Banda was one of our clients. She survived first the Rwandan genocide of 1994, then married into more problems. She wrote From Chaos to Contentment to help others. In so doing, she also helped herself. We were able to help her find the words to express the sensations she experienced.
Marina Kaye wrote The Black Veil of Deceit, a literary anthem for women everywhere. It began as a healing exercise, and became a self-help book for people seeking escape from abusive relationships. Marina came to us to better describe events and express how they made her feel.
The therapeutic value of writing is not limited to mental and psychological abuse. Pamela S. Barron wrote Breast Cancer; The Sun Will Rise because of how isolated she felt. She noted how people talk about their aches and pains and illnesses, but not about their breast cancer. We were able to help her express her feelings and perceptions, so that she could better process them.
All these healing exercises were enhanced by the collaboration with our writers. The authors benefited by being able to better process their feelings through the words our writers chose. Readers are benefiting by more clearly understanding the message and being better able to visualise how the events and emotions described in the books relate to their own lives.
How writing is therapy – what the research tells us
Our clients are not unique in their situations. Yale University’s Dr. Jennifer Kilkus, Ph.D., ABPP, points out that expressive writing can help people feel less anxious and depressed. She notes that studies show how journaling reduces symptoms of chronic health issues like arthritis and lower blood pressure.
In 2021, a study called The Event-Specific Benefits of Writing About a Difficult Life Experience found that the benefits of writing about a traumatic event were felt most in relation to the event one writes about.
“The results indicated that experimental participants were emotionally stronger, less upset, and less cognitively avoidant about the particular difficult life event they wrote about compared to an event they did not write about.”
In other words, a good way to get over trauma is to write about it.
This does not imply that there are no overall health benefits from writing about trauma. But it is particularly useful for dealing with specific events.
The therapeutic value of writing about trauma starts as young as a person can write. Even a seven-year-old found that writing about his father’s death helped him better cope with it.
Writing helps us process grief
It’s all about processing the grief from a traumatic event.
“I had never processed the grief…” says Jean Stouffer.
“The sheer joy which comes from finally — finally! — processing this…” says Ryan McCarthy.
“I was still processing my father’s loss, and I knew I wanted to write about how he died…” says Nicole Chung.
Putting those stressful and traumatic experiences down in words helps us process the grief or the pain. That’s the therapeutic value of writing.
Every one of us has a story. Indeed, we each have many, many stories. It helps to write them down. It helps even more to share them. And it helps the most to know that somebody, somewhere is nodding their head and seeing their lives reflected in our story.
If your story can help someone else process theirs, it will all have been worth it.