Writing as therapy - creative writing as therapy
Writing as therapy - Revealing the writer within
Writing as therapy is a well-known concept, but not an effectively utilized concept I would like to think. How often does our writing reveal more of us than we intend to, highlighting our dreams, our ambitions, our desires, our insecurities, fears and the angst within. I am amazed to see that each time I sit down to write a creative piece I see more of me, the inner real me shining through a character’s words, emotions or aspirations. At first this actually disturbed me, as a person who likes to keep personal things personal, but the therapeutic nature of any art form is self expression in ways that are not so obvious to the writer. I would like to clarify at this juncture that I am talking about writing as a therapy and not therapeutic writing, which is directed by a trained therapist
Therapy with freedom
What gives a writer the freedom to be himself/herself is that, even if the readers know the writer well or think they know, they are left to divide the soul from the spirit of the written words. The soul being the mind which employs creative skills to contrive, dramatize or underplay or highlight emotions or the strengths of the character, from the real person, the writer, the spirit behind the creation. The writer has the luxury of hiding his/her insecurities under the cloak of his/her satire or humor, cynicism or whatever techniques they choose to employ. Yet, the writer knows who he/she is. In some ways creative writing could be a self- portrait of the author’s beliefs, values and understanding of life. Although a writer may start out to keep the character as distinct and unique from themselves as possible, it is often likely that the voice of the writer his/her attitudes, beliefs and interest is reflected through the words and actions of the contrived being.
Dealing with emotions in creative writing
The beginning of all therapy is to emotionally express oneself. Voiced or expressed emotions, become the source of insight into motives and purposes and behaviour. In this light, writing is as therapeutic as it can get even by itself - the very act of self expression. Understanding yourself is the first, but the most important road to therapy, change and inner-healing. The kind of raw pain, anger or angst that pours out in poetry which I read online could more often be well disguised in fiction. Yet, it is not impossible to separate the author from his/her work. I have come across works that are suggestive of very well guarded anger and bitterness, insecurity that the author has been carrying within himself or herself, finding vent through creative writing. Ventilation, while being a useful technique that leads to a cathartic experience, provides relief from all pent up and unvoiced fears, anger, jealousy, frustrations, hate etc..
All negative and undealt-with emotions get an opportunity to act themselves out through the characters or created beings. This not only provides an instant relief, but also channels energy in a very positive and creative manner. It is like physically taking off unwanted or strong emotions from your person, assigning them to a character in a conflict situation to act out those emotions. Negative emotions are better off on paper, on your hard drive or computer screens than in your personal life. They do more harm than good. In real life, such feelings would inflict pain not only on others but also hurt you in ways that you may have never foreseen.
Expressing your feelings through an angry character, acting out his/her violence and aggression, could be just the cathartic experience the author needs. While he or she writes the scene they allow for aggression and anger to be released, but if a writer were to be more sensitive he/she could discover greater hidden truths. The motives ascribed to such behaviour may be worth the analysis.
Bringing about a dramatic change in attitudes/heart of the character may just be the intervention that is needed. Working them out through a creative writing process could make the literary work into a therapeutic exercise. Therapy is all about gaining insight into your behaviour and making it the springboard of further positive action.
The problem with creative writing as therapy, could well be the fact that the author is not fully aware of what he or she is doing. Having dealt with a situation, he or she may go back to the same emotions in another place or another fiction and make it more difficult or complicated for themselves in a low emotional state. Thus undoing all that had been done through a previous work.
Taking the time to study a few of his/her own works with the intent of understanding the problem and how it is dealt with, could give the author great insight into how his/her mind works. This would also clearly reveal to him/her the motives, deep seated desires, fears, concerns and worries that consume him/her. How they assign blame or become victims or even give up and die in the face of difficulty could show a pattern of how problems are resolved in real life. This needs a patient and an objective appraisal of the author’s works.
How to constructively use writing as therapy
To constructively use writing as therapy, one would do well to express emotions, especially those that trouble the writer through a given situation or plot.
Personal tragedies, hurt and pain, particularly abuse, could find excellent release through any form of creative writing. It is a way of dealing with hurt that may or may not have been dealt with sufficiently.
Even if it had been dealt with earlier it gives the writer a chance to re-examine those emotions and happenings in a new and objective light. Guilt or mistakes of the past that need forgiveness from self or reconciliation with self, lends itself well to such therapeutic writing.
Memoirs could become excellent examples of therapeutic writing as long as they are done with understanding. The greatest benefit of all this is the unspoken emotion that had been locked and festering inside not only gets a public release, but the assurance of the stamp of complete confidentiality until you as a writer are willing to reveal it.
Identifying core issues and keeping your focus on the problem that needs to be dealt with could be a good place to start.
Working through the problem in the course of your plot and bringing it to a positive denouement in your literary work could help alleviate a lot of pain and suffering, help put the past behind you and move forward with hope into a brighter future without the weight of the past hanging around your shoulders and weighing you down.
Using a reflective style of narration could reveal to you those things that you never thought were within you. Focusing on feelings and behaviour or action could bring up a lot of material that has been buried in your subconscious without a decent trial or closure. Writing a letter in a creative style that expresses all your anger or frustration while making it sound like fiction could help deal with that anger, but in a limited way.
As a qualified, trained therapist, I had taken it upon myself to study some of my own writing and a few other samples from the Internet. This has been the most interesting project I have undertaken so far, I should say. I would assume it is pretty easy to come very close to understanding the author and his/ her idiosyncrasies from a good selection of his/her work. But that is not the point that I would like to make here. I believe that more often than not it could be a great source of self-discovery for the author himself/herself, if they would take the time to understand from where each word or action of their character springs forth.
I truly hope that more people make good use of this great and liberating form of self expression and therapy.