There has been much discussed and written in mediation literature that one of the major benefits of mediation is the cathartic effect of telling a story to a neutral person.  Unfortunately, for some experiences the cathartic effect of telling someone a story may not be enough.  In those cases, it might be helpful to consider having your client express his or her feelings in writing.

As early as 1895, Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud wrote about the cathartic effect of writing one’s feelings down after a traumatic event.  In short, one of the major benefits of writing is the deeper conscious processing of the experience.  When we write, and especially by hand, the brain requires more power to be able to take the thoughts and articulate them into words.  In addition, the time that it takes to write forces the brain to slow down dramatically.  After all, the brain processes at phenomenal speeds; speaking is slower, and writing is even slower.  Allowing the brain to slow down to snail’s pace gives the person more time to reflect on the event and the effect it has on them.

Second, much of what we do in life and what we say is automatic, such as greetings and response to greetings.  Writing, however, is not automatic, and the writer is really forced to think about the issue he or she is writing about.

Finally, writing uses a different part of the brain than talking. As such, when you talk about an issue and then write about it, you are acitivating more parts of your brain that help you to cope with the problem.

Recent research has confirmed this premise, when research pysch0logist, James Pennebaker, found that “writing about thoughts and feelings arising from traumatic or stressful event — what he calls expressive writing — helped many people cope with the emotional fallout of the events, and they experienced less mental and physical damage in the long run.”

The type of writing, however, is important to the cathartic effect.  Many lawyers ask their clients to write a journal.  This journal, however, is usually used for litigation purposes and not for the purpose of allowing the person to express themselves.

Here is some guidance for clients and helping them get over their experience.

  • If you see that your client is suffering from a traumatic experience, encourage them to speak about it to the mediator.
  • If you see that your client is having an extra difficult time in processing the trauma, encourage them to write an attorney client privileged log expressing their feelings and how it affects them.  Certainly, you could use this as a basis for explaining their pain at a later time, but it should primarily be a method to allow them to have a cathartic effect and to let go.
  • Wait until several months or longer to allow the person to write the log of feelings.
  • Use the written log as a way of refreshing the recollection of the client at a later date.

Words of caution.

Sometimes asking the person to deeply reflect on items can trigger other feelings and may cause pain to the client.  This may be temporary.  However, if the feelings of pain continue to persist, there may be something else going on psychologically that may require professional counseling.