Writing is a mysterious thing. It poses a unique problem set. There are awful barren days and agonising troughs when nothing flows. Where despite careful marshalling of evidence or anecdote, the words and necessary vigour, muscle and rhythm of prose refuse to find its way to sensible assembly on a blank page. A painful aching exercise at times even excruciating. It is hard to resist the speculation that there are few amongst us who would volunteer for the personal hardship of writing and that recruiting people to conduct some writing tasks would be an exercise in futility. This must be especially true of those who as a result of established illness may already feel at the end of their rope with chronic pain. The last thing they expect to receive is homework writing tasks. However, new evidence reported in a qualitative paper by Furnes and Dysvik (2012) defies such speculations and provides interesting ideas on writing tasks and its relationship to individuals’ experiences of pain. Based on a study of the perspectives of the experiences of therapeutic writing in a cognitive behavioural programme for people with chronic pain, the authors found that for the majority of participants, the very task of writing was instrumental in providing pain relief.
Nonpharmacological strategies for the alleviation of chronic pain are not new ventures and have reported success in previous chronic pain studies. The findings of Furnes and Dysvik's study are important as they are confirmatory of findings of these earlier reports which suggested that techniques from cognitive behavioural framework can be readily applied in the management of chronic pain and that this can be facilitated by nurses (Richardson et al. 2005) in a range of cognitive behavioural interventions such as communication, interaction and education and provision of information, reassurance and coping strategies. For example, nurses have reported successes in facilitating people with chronic pain through education workshops to be proactive in taking responsibility in treating their pain (Tse et al. 2003), and in encouraging people to remain positive, to accept help and learn to live with pain (Bensten et al. 2008, West et al. 2011).
Most interestingly, similar to Furnes and Dysvik's study, nurses have reported success by combining other activities such as physical exercise with motivational interviewing to counter maladaptive behaviours to pain (Tse et al. 2013). Essentially, physical exercise aided mental hygiene, which modified positively the experience of chronic pain. In Furnes and Dysvik's study, despite the fact that the participants were largely female but otherwise a diverse group, the majority found the homework writing tasks beneficial in modifying their experience of pain. A handful railed against the assigned writing tasks. They did so because they found the exercises difficult and/or did not wish to carry them out at all. It is often said that when we write, we write with our hands, meaning writing is more a physical endeavour than a mental activity. Perhaps if those with chronic pain gave writing the same equivalence as physical exercise, the writing tasks programmes may reach even greater success than they already have achieved.