Creative Writing as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Reflection on a Training Course

I attended a training course at the University of Huddersfield yesterday, actually called “Yoga for Creativity”. As much as the course was demonstrating how yoga techniques can enhance well-being, the facilitator asked us to explore how to use creative and meditative writing as a means of therapeutic intervention. The basis of this reflection is how creative and meditative writing can be applied in  mental health settings as a therapeutic intervention, and a further reflection will be written exploring Yoga as a therapeutic intervention.

The first exercise which the facilitator asked the group to engage in really excited me as I started to think that this is an intervention that could be utilised within my practice. The activity was taken from Goldberg (1986) where writing is used as a ‘timed exercise’. The facilitator asked us to:

  1. Write continuously for 10 minutes 
  2. To keep our hands moving with no pauses in writing
  3. No crossing out
  4. Forget the rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar
  5. Lose control, don’t think and forget logic
  6. Go for the jugular (don’t be afraid to dive right into writing that exposes our feelings or makes us feel naked)

After the allocated 10 minutes we could read what we had written and discuss with our neighbours the content (if we so wished). Surprisingly, the activity didn’t end there and the facilitator asked us to highlight up to 8 sentences in our creative writings. These sentences had to ‘jump out’ at us or offer meaning. After choosing our 8 sentences, we were asked to then make a poem out of the sentences in any order. This was brilliant. I began to think about how I could potentially use this as a therapeutic intervention related to mental health, and namely within my OCD Support and Recovery group.

As I was carrying out the exercise, I felt a sense of exposure, but this wasn’t anxiety provoking. It led to more of a curiosity as to what would come out from my 10 minutes writing without pausing. I guess it’s a lot like Freud’s  ‘free association’ but with a little bit of a twist. I like that idea a lot!

I think that if this intervention was used within my group, it has the potential to get a lot of ‘thoughts’ out on paper. For some this could be more anxiety provoking than others, dependent on the nature of OCD and the content of intrusive thoughts and obsessions. This is something that will have to be further explored through talking this activity through with members of the group to hear their perspectives and possible anxieties.

Possible Intervention

Follow the guidelines for intervention above but:

  1. Ask group members to write for 10 minutes continuously on the theme of OCD
  2. Highlight up to 15 positive words or sentences
  3. Adapt those 15 words into a creative poem related to their OCD.

Action Plan

  • I intend to research the evidence base for creative writing as a therapeutic intervention further. I have bought a book titled “Writing Well: Creative Writing and Mental Health” by Deborah Philips, Liz Linington and Debra Penman and also have a couple of chapters photocopied from “Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path” by John Wellwood from the training course attended. This will be read and studied further.
  • Speak to group members about their perspectives on using creative writing as a therapeutic activity to inform part  of their Recovery Action Plan.
  • Conduct the adapted activity on myself and see if it works.
  • Reflect further once I have used this activity on myself, and within a therapeutic environment.

References

Goldberg, N. (1986) Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala

Philips, D. Linington, L. and Penman, D. (1999) Writing Well: Creative Writing and Mental Health. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Wellwood, J. (1992) Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path. London: Shambhala