22 September, 2010

Using Creative Writing as a Therapeutic Tool

Several years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time in Eastern Asia. I visited a very un-touristy Buddhist monastery in China, and although I've never been hugely religious, I tucked myself up in a corner, got out my journals and wrote. After about an hour of being entirely engrossed in my scribblings, I noticed that one of the monks had come over and sat near me. After a while I gathered quite a crowd, monks, locals they all came to watch me write. The same happened in Japan, whilst visiting Shinto temples; I was sitting and contentedly writing when people gathered around me.

Emotional exploration, emotional release, emotional purging, (whatever you want to call it) through writing is a pretty internationally accepted way of gaining self-insight. You can write out your sorrow, write out your anguish, write out your unhappiness.

First researched in the 1970s, the phenomenon has been around for much longer, writing as 'therapy', keeping a journal or writing poetry has been used for several hundred years. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter while confined in prison. Anne Frank wrote from her secret annexe. Franz Kafka did not even want his writings published.

Writing can also help clarify and develop thoughts, providing us with an independent coping mechanism, something that we can turn to whenever we need it, not just when we have the time and motivation to seek help.

Try these techniques to show your students how to use very simple writing exercises to help develop a sense of balance: -

• Hot penning. Sit down with a pen and paper and write the first thing that comes to mind. Write anything and everything, however silly it may seem. It can be useful to set a time limit if your students haven't tried anything like this before. Don't pressure them into reading anything out loud, however if there are volunteers you may want to let them share.

• Encourage your students to take a different route around school. Lots of writers will talk about seeing things through new eyes, by changing something as simple as the way you walk, you may notice the seasons changing or an unexpected event occuring. Stimulating your mind.

• Finish someone else's writing. If you feel like you can't express yourself, try using the first line of your favourite piece of writing and developing something from there. Try 'She walks in beauty like the night...', 'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold...', 'Do not go gentle into that good night...', 'Had we but world enough, and time...'

• Write the other side of the story. If you're unhappy or upset, try writing the other side of the story, write about the other person's life, see if you can work out why they are hurting you, whether they hurt too. See if you can understand and accept them.

• Write and release. You don't need to make anything of your writing; you can just take everything that is causing you difficulty and write it all down on paper. Then throw it away. Burn it. Put it in water to wash away the ink. A moment of catharsis can help settle your mind, and give you the freedom to concentrate on other things.

And it's not just your students. Be mindful of your own balance too. Make sure you can cope with the daily stresses of life, before being burdened with others.

Lord Byron (he of the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' fame) saw things in a very similar way... 'If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad'. His point is very true; an author friend of mine says she knows she has to write when the characters in her mind won't let her do anything else!

A quote I hold dear to my heart is 'write to save yourself and someday you'll write because you've been saved' written by Anne Michaels. Whatever reason you have to write, whatever the difficulties you face in life, tackle them, don't let them overwhelm you.

If you're interested in learning more about the field mental health and wellbeing, you might also want to sign up for Mental Health Matters, providing you with the best tips, practical ideas and materials in the field.


Read, Learn & Flourish!

For Your Success & Glory!