Can Writing Heal You?

On a snowy Saturday, I was welcomed into award-winning playwright Alexandra Gersten-

Vassilaros’ Upper East Side apartment. Right away, she reminded me of a blond goddess living among her photographs, art and memorabilia, pieces reminiscent of her Greek heritage.

Being surrounded by these Hellenic pieces may have been why the session felt more like a visit with the Greek muses than the standard workshop. Olga Berg, a personal development coach and Alex took a small group through a day-long series of emotionally intense exercises based on "The Work" of Byron Katie. These practices helped us analyze how we judge people and situations in an attempt to heal our individual pain through recognition of the stories we tell ourselves.

Alex is getting ready to lead her own Tuesday night series of workshops on Writing as a Tool for Healing at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care in NYC’s Flatiron District on Jan. 31. In anticipation of that, I took the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions about the program.

Brette Popper: Why and how does the process of writing heal someone from suffering?

Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros: I’ve noticed that the process of writing our thoughts down on

paper can help slow us down, help us move out of high reactivity and invite us to discover layers or parts of ourselves that we forgot were there, or forgot how to even correspond with.

In community with others, our shared complications become our shared humanity, our similar struggles with love, loss and grief can be orienting and tenderizing and deeply reassuring. Writing and listening to other people’s work can move us out of isolation, move us out of our stuck or fearful condition and help us notice what else is possible.

Writing can free us from beliefs or habitual thinking that causes us to suffer or merely endure difficulty. During and after my husband’s illness and passing, writing helped me gasp less and breathe more. Resist less and become more curious. Getting still-er by writing it down gave me a way through pain, through resistance, and helped me hold some of the contradictions that life and death issues bring to the surface so vividly. Writing became a refuge, a way to refresh my thinking and inspire me to live and love more vulnerably and adventurously.