I had been writing for over twenty years when the depression (which is a part of my make-up) overwhelmed me. Up until that point, I had been very focused on publication, writing feature articles and non-fiction copy for magazines, newsletters, annual reports and newspapers. I also had several unpublished novels.
When the emotional and psychological crash came, I stopped writing. Life became an endless succession of treacherous puzzles and traps which I somehow had to work my way round. Picking up a hairbrush became an enormous act of will, never mind picking up a pen and doing something worthwhile with it. I felt very bleak and hopeless. I became inarticulate. When I went into therapy I would cry but I could not speak coherently. After several sessions, my therapist, probably out of exasperation, said, ‘You’re a writer, write and we can look at that.’
Eventually, I came to a place where I was able to look about me and understand more of what was happening for me. It was then that I discovered others who believed in, and practised, creative writing as a way towards better mental health. A lot of them belonged to Lapidus and I attended one of its conferences in 2004. Here I met like-minded people and also discovered resources which would support my own recovery as well as my move towards offering workshops to others which explored the therapeutic aspects of creative writing.
Creativity as a way towards greater self-understanding and reflexivity is recognised in the worlds of, for instance, art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy. And creative writing with therapeutic intent shares much with these practices. For example, the idea that it is healing: to express and name emotions; to find a narrative which makes sense for us and have it heard and understood; to do all this in the presence of a non-judgemental other.
James W Pennebaker, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, The University of Texas, is considered to be one of the first who conducted research to give some evidence to the notion that writing has a therapeutic worth (see below for references for him and others in the field). He suggested that writing is particularly effective if: a feeling is expressed and named; the writing allows people to see different perspectives on an event; a narrative is given coherence. I argue, along with others, that creative writing empowers people to achieve these three outcomes.
I now run workshops for health professionals and writers interested in bringing creative writing into their personal reflexive practice and work with clients (see my website, Writing Ourselves Well). However, the method I have discovered and explored since beginning to think of writing as a way to healing, is now intrinsic to the writing I do for an audience. ‘Free writing’, allowing the words to drop onto the page without thought to purpose, audience, grammar, spelling or sense (see references below), is a fundamental part of my routine. I believe it puts me in touch with the thoughts and feelings which are less easily accessible, which are, perhaps, below those which I deem I ought to think or feel. In my opinion, this makes my writing more raw, more authentic.
I trust it also makes it more creative, because in the free writing words fall in what at first appear to be strange juxtapositions but can be the starting points for quirky descriptions or less-than-usual plot twists.
In addition, in my series of crime novels set in Scarborough, one of the narrators is a trainee counsellor living with depression. There are, of course, parallels with my story, and I hope I manage to inject depth and insight into the telling of it because of the way I have used creative writing to reflect on what has happened to me.
Creative writing can reach far within us, plough up feelings which we have buried, show us parts of ourselves which we may find difficult to accept. For this it is both wonderful and potent and, I would suggest, needs to be handled with care. I took my first steps with my therapist. I think writers treading into these waters, whether as facilitator or participant, require support and training. Information on both abound on the Lapidus website. See you there!
Gillie Bolton The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999.
Editors Gillie Bolton, Stephanie Howlett, Colin Lago and Jeannie K Wright Writing Cures An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Therapy Brunner-Routledge, 2004.
Eds Gillie Bolton, Victoria Field & Kate Thompson, Writing Works, a resource handbook for therapeutic writing workshops & activities. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006
DeSalvo, L. (1999). Writing as a Way of Healing, How telling our stories transforms our lives. The Women’s Press.
Evans, K. (2011). ‘The Chrysalis and the Butterfly: A phenomenological study of one person’s writing journey.’ Journal of Applied Arts & Health 2:2, 173-186.
Mazza, N. (2003). Poetry Therapy. Theory & Practice. Routledge, New York & London.
Nicholls, S. (2009). ‘Beyond Expressive Writing: evolving models of developmental creative writing.’ Journal of Health Psychology 14(2), 171-180.
James W Pennebaker, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, The University of Texas http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/pennebaker/home2000/jwphome.htm
Pennebaker, J.W., & Beall, S.K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.
Smyth, J.M., & Pennebaker, J.W. (2008). Exploring the boundary conditions of expressive writing: In search of the right recipe. British Journal of Health Psychology 13, 1-7.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Opening Up. The healing power of expressing emotions. The Guilford Press: New York.
The Art of Survival by Kate Evans
The Art of Survival asks: What will fear push ordinary people to do? What happens when little girls get lost? DS Theo Akande is investigating the disappearance of eight year old Victoria Everidge. Her mother, Yvonne, is a desperate woman. What is she capable of? Eminent journalist and newspaperman, Stan Poole, dies leaving a filing cabinet full of secrets. As these leak out, his daughter, Hannah, begins to question her own girlhood. She is losing her way. Her best friend, Lawrence, newly an item with Theo, finds it hard to remain supportive. Instead Hannah clings to her work as a trainee counsellor and to her client Julia. Julia is apparently no little girl lost, but appearances can be deceptive. Then a body is found.
This is the second novel by Kate Evans. Her first, The Art of the Imperfect, was long-listed for the Crime Writers Association debut dagger in 2015. Kate Evans is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her book, Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment, was published by Sense Publishers in 2013. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and teaches on the Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull, Scarborough campus. She is trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. She loves walking by the sea and afternoon tea, and has an inexplicable drive to bring a new generation to the poetry of Edith Sitwell. For further information, see: www.writingourselveswell.co.uk
Praise for The Art of the Imperfect
‘The first thing to mention is the writing style is incredibly strong. … The description through this book is brilliantly constructed so that I really felt completely immersed.’ Lizzy, My Little Book Blog
'The book ... retains its readability on a second or third reading and beyond. It is written by an unobtrusively gifted creative talent, whose gifts will assuredly go on expanding and enlarge their range ... The novel is convincing enough to haunt us, and graze us into deeper thought.' Dr Heward Wilkinson, UKCP Fellow, UKCP Registered, Integrative Psychotherapist.