Pluralistic Practitioners Network Creativity Group: Creative Writing in Therapy. Gathering Report from 31st July 2021
Roddie McKenzie PhD, PG Dip. Counselling (Senior Counsellor with Insight Counselling, Dundee).
The PPN Creativity Group on Zoom continues to attract participants from across the UK and Europe. Fourteen attended the July monthly gathering of the group, which focussed on creative writing as a therapeutic tool. We are a mixed group in terms of training and counselling experience and are open to anyone interested in using creative arts in therapy as part of a pluralistic approach. In these convivial and educational gatherings, at 10 am on the last Saturday of the month, we spend an hour discussing a different artistic/therapeutic topic and learning from each other how it could be offered and implemented as a part of a therapy menu.
Some time was spent defining what is meant by creative writing in a therapy context. It could include: story writing, poetry, letter writing, journal recording of thoughts and feelings, essay writing to a problem or illness and the contents could be either fictional or non-fictional, but the key characteristic was that use of the participant’s imagination was common to all of these techniques and the content of the exercise was more important than what label should be applied to it. Reviewing the product of the exercise with the counsellor could serve as a prompt for further exploration of the issue that the client had brought along.
Although this approach will not appeal to all clients, for some it can be empowering and also instructive and revealing for the therapist who hears the work. Clients could be encouraged to use these techniques either within sessions or as homework. Some caveats were raised about careful use of two of the approaches, particularly with traumatised or vulnerable clients who might find writing about certain experiences or topics on their own as homework, intimidating. This may be a particular problem in journaling where unless there is an initial framework or structure to contain the work, to write about troubling feelings may make the sense of chaos experienced by the client worse. An answer to this may be to suggest that the client writes a fairytale about a character; this provides sufficient psychological distance for safety.
Some other approaches were discussed – an in therapy exercise on writing about a set topic for four minutes and then a discussion/exposition. The journaling workbook ‘Time to Write to Yourself’ by Dianne Sandland contains set exercises to write on different problems. Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ was described. It contains exercises for that liminal period between waking and getting up as a way of accessing sub-conscious material. Other approaches were to fill three pages with free writing or a six part story method. Another technique from Cameron’s book was to make six doodles of a fictional character and then tell a story containing the following sections: Who? Their mission? What obstacles are in the way? The solution found? What happened ? and the end. This could allow clients to engage indirectly through the actions of the character. Other tools included the Dixit Cards, which is a family game and the Storyworld cards which allow clients to manipulate characters.
Mention was made of the following books: ‘Therapeutic Journal Writing – an Introduction for Professionals’by Kate Thompson; ‘Open Up by Writing it Down: How Creative Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain’ by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smith; ‘The Creative Journal: the Art of Finding Yourself’ by Lucia Capacchione – who also is the author of journaling books for teens and children; and ‘The Way of the Journal: A Journal Therapy Workbook for Healing’ by Kay Adams.
Mo Szulejewska has informed me that the two main courses in the UK are the Tees side MA in Creative Writing for Wellbeing and the Metanoia MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. Both require applicants to provide examples of their own creative writing as part of the application process and develop their personal creative writing during the courses. In the USA there is training in Journal Therapy which is validated by the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. In September, we will look at autobiography as part of therapy. The gathering will be on Saturday, 25th September at our usual time (10.00 – 11.00 am). For further details contact: [email@example.com] or see our website at: https://creativitygathering.wixsite.com/website/upcoming-events