English Ph.D. Dissertations


Confronting Aging and Serious Illness through Journaling: A Study of Writing as Therapy

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Advisor)


This pilot study asked whether people suffering from illness, injury, or the often dehumanizing effects of aging could benefit from the integration of written discourse as non-medical but parallel treatment options. As such, it focused on implementing writing as therapy, and involved three separate workshops, ranging in duration from 6-8 weeks throughout the fall of 2005. Workshop participants from each group were volunteers recruited through advertisements developed by the researcher and disseminated through the cooperation of three separate institutions located in Northwest Ohio. Specifically, one group of participants involved senior residents at a retirement community; a second group included clients at a local organization that offers non-medical support to cancer survivors and their family members. The final group was recruited from a hospital cancer support service, bringing the total number of participants across all three groups to approximately fifteen. Writing workshops were conducted separately, and in the case of the retirement community participants, workshop material was geared more toward reflective and autobiographical writing than toward illness and recovery. Ultimately, the variation in materials reflected participants’ reasons for joining the workshops, and the resultant exigencies from which their writing emerged. Implementing and expanding upon the work of scholars who advocate the therapeutic effects of writing, the study methodology relied upon triangulation of data, including participant interviews, written artifacts, and surveys whose analysis produced thick description of the extent to which written discourse provided therapeutic benefit to individuals experiencing: 1) latter stages of life, which trigger a confrontation with mortality and the subsequent desire to create a permanent record that validates existence, 2) life threatening illness that hastens awareness of mortality, 3) loved ones’ life threatening illness, and its emotional repercussions. The study’s findings incorporated service-learning theory and community literacy programs as natural extensions for writing-as-therapy projects. More specifically, it sought to nurture a perspective of written discourse that transcends the academy to include not only health care services, but communities in general, as a bridge for service learning and community literacy programs; furthermore, it argued for the inclusion of such theories in writing curricula, with a purpose toward balancing academic writing with writing for personal growth.