“The pen is a powerful weapon; it can make you change”: Exploring empowerment through reflective writing in adolescents

Lisa Wegner, Patricia Struthers, Suraya Mohamed


Introduction: Adolescent programmes have been criticised for implementing activities but not allowing opportunities for reflection. One way that reflection can be facilitated is through writing. This paper describes the use of reflective writing with adolescents as part of a health promoting schools project in Cape Town, South Africa.

Method: The project included an annual leadership camp for adolescent learners. A descriptive, qualitative study was conducted to describe how the learners responded to writing as a means to express their feelings about, and experiences of, the camp. Thirty learners participated in two writing sessions resulting in 53 written reflections that were analysed thematically.

Findings: Three themes emerged: (1) Reflections on self; (2) Reflections on self in relation to others; and (3) Reflections on writing. Participants reflected on connecting with complex, positive and negative feelings, and felt that reflective writing had enabled them to express themselves with courage and honesty, connect with themselves, identify weaknesses and let go of negative emotions and feelings. Furthermore, writing was perceived as being non-judgmental, providing a sense of relief and release, and evoking emotions. 

Conclusion: Reflective writing enabled the participants to acknowledge personal changes and development, and provided insight into their feelings and experiences. This study shows the value of reflective writing for use by health professionals such as occupational therapists, as a tool for empowerment in the pursuit of health and wellbeing.  

Key words: adolescents, empowerment, health promoting schools, reflective writing

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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