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Can ‘life writing’ be therapeutic in response to trauma? An exploratory research project in Medical Humanities in South Africa
  1. Dawn Garisch1,
  2. Janet Giddy1,
  3. Giles Griffin1,
  4. Steve Reid2
  1. 1Life Righting Collective, Cape Town, South Africa
  2. 2Primary Health Care, University of Cape Town FHS, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Professor Steve Reid, Primary Health Care, University of Cape Town FHS, Cape Town 7935, South Africa; steve.reid{at}


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:, 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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Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors All the authors conceptualised the study. SR is the guarantor for the study, drafted the protocol and obtained ethical approval. DG, JG and SR collected and analysed the data, and drafted the manuscript. GG proofread the manuscript and all authors approved the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.