The Role of Creative Writing in Therapy
I decided at the start of the year to practice what I preach in my role as a counsellor – to explore creativity as an enhancement to wellbeing – and joined a local creative writing group. There I penned my first piece of creative writing since leaving school. Our homework assignment from the group was for us to choose a memory from our childhood and write 2500 words.
I chose a memory at 11 years old, of my best friend choosing to go out with a girl one Saturday afternoon instead of playing with me. And in the writing of it, I found myself exploring themes of trust, the loss of innocence, betrayal and how when you’re 11 years old everything can quickly return to normal and life carry on. I realised when I read this out to the group the following week that what I’d ended up writing was not just a recollection, but more of a dissection of the things I was unable to voice at the time. This turned an autobiographical piece into a powerful drama that could give airtime and perspective at last to my feelings. Its rawness and vulnerability resonated deeply with the group, and from that beginning, I have gone right back to my adoption and written so far 50,000 words on the theme, ‘Days, events and people that have shaped my life.’ I’ve written quite forensically and as accurately as I can recall, helped particularly as far as my childhood was concerned by a wealth of family photos taken by my father, a talented photographer.
How often do we take the opportunity that’s there for all of us to dwell on the significant times in our lives? Even those of us who have had extensive therapy – and I’ve had 100 hours – didn’t spend that much time on this, and certainly not this amount of words. I have acquired a new thread of insight now that runs through my life. It’s been possible for me to understand now why I changed from innocent to worldly, or idealistic to materialistic, or from atheism to searching for a spirituality that fits me. Not from a developmental theoretical framework that I have learnt about, but from a highly specific personal journey.
I’ve had insight into the triggers that those significant ‘days, events and people’ have had on my own development, and why out of all the possible ‘days, events and people’ only thirty or so over the course of my life have been sufficiently significant to influence it. Why them and not others? Why is my memory so clear in sometimes forensic detail about those days, and yet most have flown by with little or no recollection? Why did my life turn on single moments, and then no significant change for relatively long periods of time?
I’ve made some obvious choices in marriage, divorce, births and parental deaths. But I’ve also selected other events that might not have affected anyone else’s life in anything in the way they have influenced mine – my walk to school, a general election, first real young love, first festival, a particular house I lived in as a student, my first afternoon at work …
I’ve also resolved not to offer my writing to anyone else other than possibly my immediate family, in order to not be swayed into making my life seem more glamorous, less shameful, and more virtuous than it really was. Indeed if no-one ever read it, it would have been a hugely worthwhile achievement in itself, and I think that’s what sets it apart from any ambitions to be an erstwhile published author. In not setting out to be published it’s freed me to write as honestly as I can recall, and to also introduce my own self-awareness now into events in the past. Neither have I sought to have my particular memories validated by for instance my sister, since I know our experiences of growing up were very different despite the efforts by our parents to raise us as equally as they felt able.
But perhaps the most significant and entirely unexpected outcome has been that I now have a desire to write a novel, something I’ve fantasised about for years but felt completely inadequate to know where to even begin. And in doing so I’ve laid to rest a comment made on the last piece of creative writing I produced by a teacher when I was 13. His words, ‘you’ll never make a writer’ now raise a smile of (slightly vengeful) glee when I recall them.