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Autobiographical writing as part of therapy: A tool for self-understanding and change

Jennifer Ire, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study explored, from a phenomenological perspective, the experiences people in therapy had with autobiographical writing, including the descriptions of their experiences and what occurred during and after writing, and their evaluations of this form of writing. It describes some ways in which this form of writing can help facilitate therapeutic change. Three women and one man in therapy engaged in a period of autobiographical writing focused on a problematic event in their family-of-origin that served as a quasi presenting problem for this study. Data was gathered through an in-depth interview with participants at the end of the period of writing, the journals that participants were requested to keep, and the observations of their therapists gathered by in-depth interviews. It was found that writing autobiography facilitated the expression of feelings, a shift in a personal paradigm, a beginning sense of self as agent, and changes in relationships. It was determined that this process of writing, regardless of the content of that writing, had the potential to provide therapeutic benefit to the writer. Participants found the writing partially responsible for their experiences and helpful in bringing forward the realization that there was a problem that needed to be addressed. It also made issues tangible and facilitated their ability to work with them, process and let go of them. Participants advocated the use of autobiographical writing as a tool in therapy because it brought up issues being worked on in a different format, it revealed things about the writer, even to that person, it loosened up things attached to the story, it made one's experiences real to oneself, and it was useful in reviewing one's life and honoring one's witnessing of one's life. Therapists found some benefits in this tool. For example, it facilitated deep focused work, accelerated the writer's process, fostered self-reflective work outside of therapy, and brought a particular experience to the surface and allowed it to be worked on.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychotherapy|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Ire, Jennifer, "Autobiographical writing as part of therapy: A tool for self-understanding and change" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737541.