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Can ‘life writing’ be therapeutic in response to trauma? An exploratory research project in Medical Humanities in South Africa

Abstract

The therapeutic benefit of expressive writing has been well researched in the Global North but there is no literature from the Global South. Potentially healing interventions need to be investigated in different contexts, particularly where there is a need to build social cohesion. South Africa has a violent past and is a highly stressed society. An exploration of self-reports by a diverse group of South Africans on the effects of life writing on their health and well-being was conducted using qualitative methods. Twenty members of a writing collective, the Life Righting Collective (LRC: www.liferighting.co.za), were purposively sampled and interviewed by medical students as part of a Medical Humanities special study module. Five major interconnected themes emerged. The LRC as a specific intervention was central to the benefits described. The findings of this study indicated that life writing is a useful non-medical, cost-efficient method to improve resilience to trauma, as well as improving the psychological well-being of the participants. In addition, participants reported positive experiences regarding personal development, overall wellness and mental health, and that life writing can engender a sense of community. Resource-constrained countries in the Global South, like South Africa, where there have been historical and ongoing multiple traumas, need interventions for healing and wellness that are low cost and can be replicated.

  • therapeutic writing
  • medical humanities
  • creative writing
  • arts in health/arts and health

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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