By Chung So and Darrin S. Joy
When Julie Davey heard about a recent study suggesting that expressive writing may improve cancer patients’ quality of life, she was far from shocked. In her seven years of teaching the Writing for Wellness class at City of Hope, Davey has seen the healing power of the pen firsthand in her students: cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and even health-care staff.
What surprised her was that the Wellness Community in Phoenix already adopted her concept of guided group writing, and similar plans are in the works at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, with further interest from hospitals in Alabama, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.
The buzz started in fall 2007 with publication of Davey’s book “Writing for Wellness: A Prescription for Healing,” which included her own experiences with writing therapy, as well as stories and poems from her students and instructions and prompts for readers to produce their own works.
Davey has since been traveling across the country to sign books, give lectures and participate in tele-seminars to help train the next generation of “Writing for Wellness” teachers.
“It really has been my dream all along for this class to spread to other places,” said Davey. “It has been very effective in helping City of Hope patients and their loved ones heal, so I would like to see its therapeutic benefits help people going through the same ordeals and challenges nationwide.”
Social support has long been known to be a buffer against illness, according to Matthew Loscalzo, M.S.W., administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope. “It promotes a sense of integration and lessens feelings of isolation and loneliness. Writing and other forms of expression help them connect with others on a deep spiritual and intellectual level.”
In writing, patients gain a robust voice to parts of themselves that hold energy, creativity, healing and connection beyond what is accessible in the stress of every day life and coping with a life-threatening illness, he said.
But writing isn’t the only creative outlet available to patients.
“Our Hands-on-Harps program is another powerful example,” said Annette Mercurio, patient and family services program director. “Our harpists offer free workshops and one-on-one lessons that foster self-expression.”
In addition, City of Hope offers art workshops and will be enlisting a music therapist at several support group meetings, and the Biller Resource Center is searching for funds for an ongoing, comprehensive expressive arts program, she said.
Meanwhile, Davey still regularly teaches at City of Hope, welcoming new and experienced writers alike. The class appears on City of Hope’s online calendar.
“Writing for Wellness: A Prescription for Healing” is on sale at City of Hope’s gift shop, as well as online booksellers such as Amazon.com, and book proceeds are donated to City of Hope.