Writing in theory and therapy.

Of course I’m very far from the first to discover the therapeutic power of writing. No doubt it had been recognised for centuries even before the illustrious English poet George, Lord Byron (1788-1842) made his famous observation that “if I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

Though many would argue that Byron and many others have seemed far from sane despite – or even as evidenced by – their literary productions, many others have expressed similar testaments to the mental and emotional benefits of writing.

Novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene (1904-1991), for example, claimed that “writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in the human condition.” 

Rather less dramatically, American author Anne Morrow Lindberg (1906-2001) commented that “I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

And Gao Xingiian (b.1940, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature, spoke for countless of us lesser scribblers in declaring that “writing eases my suffering…writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.”

A further and even more compelling link between creative writing and counselling or psychotherapy is that revealed by Sigmund Freud’s British disciple and biographer Ernest Jones, who conjectured that Freud may have derived his technique of ‘free association’ from “The art of becoming an original writer in three days”, an essay written in 1823 by Ludwig Börn (real name Baruch Löb), whose collected works the young Sigmund was given at the age of 14, and kept all his life.

Another celebrated theorist, the ‘neo-Freudian’ Erik Erikson, was inspired by the ‘seven ages of man’ soliloquy from Shakespeare’s “As you like it” in first postulating seven stages in his ‘psychosocial’ theory of development across the human life span, only much later adding an eighth stage to encompass the great age to which he himself lived.

Such historical links between writing and psychology, and hunches as to the therapeutic effectiveness of writing, are of course hardly sufficient basis for incorporating writing into professional counselling.

But now there is considerable and ever-growing evidence of the efficacy of writing therapy and its close relative, reading or so-called ‘bibliotherapy’. In fact one of the pioneers in the field, Pennebaker, demonstrated that the benefits of therapeutic writing extend beyond the mental to the medical, apparently achieving significant improvements in patients with conditions including arthritis and allergies.

To confine ourselves here to the emotional realm, however, prolific author on writing therapy, Gillian Bolton, declares that “writing is different from talking; it has a power all of its own”. And following an exhaustive review of the academic literature on writing therapy, the aptly-named researcher Jeannie Wright concludes that “there is no other system of psychotherapy in which the client has so much control over the rate, depth and intensity of his or her therapeutic work.”

But of course, as write-minded as I am, and as a practitioner of writing therapy to boot, I’m far from impartial and thus not necessarily to be trusted.

So whatever you do, don’t take my or anyone else’s word for the benefits of writing for whatever might trouble, perplex or worry you. You can always try it for yourself first, in your own fashion and of course totally free of charge. Or take a punt on at least an initial session with me or another writing therapist and from there make up your own mind.

Write.Mind Therapy deanjohns@hotmail.com  0412 035 183.

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