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Posts Tagged ‘therapeutic writing’


Often in my therapeutic writing sessions, we will use a poem as a springboard. This poem is chosen for its relationship to group concerns. For example, Rumi’s Guesthouse helps people who are feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings they cannot understand. Or Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings resonates with people who feel trapped (for example, caregivers).

The people I work with may have had scant experience of reading poetry. They are sometimes surprised at how relevant poetry can be – even if the poetry they have met previously was written in language not remotely relating to their everyday lives and seemingly placing the poet’s concerns somewhere different from their own.

So, when we have read the poem (several times), we then consider some of the following questions:

  • What does this poem do for you?
  • What feelings does this poem call up in you?
  • What similarities are there in your life?
  • How do you relate to the speaker’s situation?

These questions are quite different to the questions asked in usual literature classes and may generate surprising discussions. But if the group is willing to go further, I may ask also the more usual questions such as:

  • What is the important idea in this poem?
  • How does the language help to express this idea? The images? The sound? The rhythm?
  • Which vivid detail speaks most to you?

And if group members are interested in ‘having a go’ themselves, I ask them to make notes on the following:

  • If you wanted to write about your own situation, what image would you choose?
  • Have you any ideas about a poetic form you’d choose? Eg couplets (two line verses, lists, alpha poems? Free verse?
  • Would you write it from your own point of view – or choose another person? For example, we might read Hawk roosting by Ted Hughes.

And then, we do ‘have a go’!

Sharing is an important part of this kind of work. Some people are willing to share there and then. Others like to polish their work as ‘homework’. Others consider publication or public performance.

But, for some, what they have written is entirely private. And, whatever they choose to do is good. In fact, for some, having a choice is empowering. Choice for some is a rare experience.

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At the beginning of any Lonely Furrow Company group session, I like to encourage people to feel ‘in the room’. I use a few Open Space guidelines to settle people down – such as ‘Who-ever comes are the right people’ and ‘Whatever happens is the right thing to happen’. For added safety, I add the Chatham House Rule: ‘What is said in the room stays in the room’.

And then we begin – usually with a free-write on ‘Why am I here?’

I run two sorts of creative writing groups. One is concerned with creative writing and publication. The other has as its focus the well-being of individual participants and creative writing is the means to achieve this. At the point of the first free-write, the nature of each group becomes clear.

Writers concerned with the art and craft of creative writing and the possibilities of broadcasting and publication concentrate on technique – themes and inspirations, characterisation, plotting, location and descriptions, dialogue, editing, language and style and how to approach publishers. They are honing their skills. They may enjoy the ride but the finished product – story, poem, memoir, drama – is their goal. (I have devoted the writing blog, Authorgym, to this: http://authorgym.wordpress.com )

On the other hand, in a therapeutic creative writing group, the possibilities of self-exploration mean that technique doesn’t matter. In these groups, creative writing may take the form of journal writing, unsent letters, dialogues, expressions of altered time perspectives, and creatively-written accounts of imaginings, dreams and visions. These writers may take pleasure in the writing itself.

But, for these writers, it is the process that counts. Nothing written can be ‘wrong’. The purpose of the writing is to observe what is going inside the writer and what is going on around them and to bear witness to this. It is not to produce a work of Art.

As, for example, journal therapist Kate Thompson explains in Therapeutic Journal Writing (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011): “for most people who practise therapeutic journal writing, the product of their process will be greater understanding, behavioural change or enhanced well-being rather than the writing itself.”

And, released from concerns over spelling, grammar and punctuation, writers – who never thought of themselves as writers – begin to use words fluently to feel into the darkness within and shed light. (This blog explores this further.)

There is another major difference between the two groups – the desire to ‘share’. Creative writers who want to produce stories or plays are not writing in a vacuum. Part of their purpose in writing at all is to ‘share’ – whether this is reading aloud to a group or being published.

But, within the therapeutic creative writing group, seeking to know themselves better, the ‘sharing’ is optional. For some, it’s enough to have borne witness to their lives with only themselves as audience. They may then choose to share with a trusted A N OTHER. Or they may choose to destroy what they have written. Whatever they choose doesn’t diminish the power of the process itself. And their choice not to share is a valid strategy and must be respected.

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