Reflective writing can provide us with a consistent anchor, a grounding and a rich resource to help us navigate difficulties and be with ‘what is’ without fear of fleeing, fighting, freezing or flopping and to recognise key points and what we did to support our client in that moment.
When we take up a pen and begin to journal, we create a bubble in which we are with ourselves in a different way. We may even have a different voice that appears on the blank sheet as we write.
Reflective writing is a process that invites us to engage with the page of paper in front of us — we come up close to what is happening inside us, whilst also allowing us to achieve a little distance, bring fresh eyes and compassion to ourselves in the moment. With curiosity, we can inquire about an experience, the influences and the nuances, what else we see and know without being entwined in the story itself.
We an write from the balcony looking down on the dance floor of our experience, and from here we give ourselves the opportunity to re-story our stories. We can slowly begin to deepen our relationships; owning our talents as well as transforming our vulnerabilities into courage, daring and perseverance. We develop a richer kindness and compassion to arise that hints at us continuing to work through, evolve and welcome all parts of ourselves.
The intensive research done over 30 years by Professor Emeritus James Pennebaker of the Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas has showed that when we write about difficulty and include words like ‘influenced by,’ ‘because,’ ‘in spite of,’ and ‘even though,’ we are taking definite steps for our well being . We are working with what arises. Writing about difficulty can transform our thinking into insight and wisdom that is already in us if we but still ourselves and listen to our own wise voices.
Practices to try
Here are two practices (amongst many) for you to try with yourself and with your clients to help accelerate your entry into a reflective and creative process:
Practice 1: Free or Wild Writing Practice Practice in the Moment
A simple, powerful and immediate way to connect to an idea, shift in the room, a question that arises before, during or after a coaching session. As a practitioner this can help us to focus in the moments right before or after a session on what is noticed in ourselves and in the work.
With a client — when you face a tough or an exquisitely tender moment — you can spot contract for a few minutes of free writing. Writing can be in short bursts for between 3 to 10 minutes (depending on how much time you have). It is amazing how much insight can bubble up if we bring the attending qualities of unconditional positive regard and when we let go of all the reasons, excuses, and fears we hold about writing. Free Writing gives us permission to let ourselves go barefoot on the page — and because we know that it won’t last long, we can sprint to the end.
Practice 2: Writing Reflection Notes After a Coaching Session or Critical Incident
Whether your role was as a coach, supervisor, coachee or supervisee, here are some questions you can write about which can help you to mine the gold from any session or critical incident
- Question 1: What happened?
- Question 2: What caused that to happen?
- Question 3: What was happening in me right before when I thought or felt that?
- Question 4: What can I learn from this?
And the Last Word…
We invite you into the magic of reflective writing and give the last word to J.K. Rowling who speaks also for us when she writes :
“And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss.”
— J.K. Rowling
About the author
Karyn Prentice is a writer, Coach and Coach Supervisor. She co-leads The Coaching Supervision Academy’s Diploma in Coaching Supervision and has co-reated an EMCC accredited Diploma Programme in Creativity.
 Pennebaker, James W. (1997). Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion. NY: Guilford Press.
 Rowling, J. K . as quoted in Ibtimes.