Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing as Therapy

I recently had a comment from Glenda Beall, a fellow blogger at Netwest Writers ( ). I love her blog and hang out there quite frequently just for the sense of writers' community I get there. Glenda pointed out to me how she too has felt writer's block during times of happiness. I mentioned this in an earlier post, and I couldn't agree more that writing is a form of therapy.

I do a writer's workshop once a week at Vanderbilt's Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital. This project is made available through Nashville's Youth Speaks organization. This pulls together my two greatest loves, psychology and creativity. I find that the troubled children there are highly creative, cooperative and open to the writing process. I enjoy them every week and find such inspiration in their courage to share honestly. Although I work with lots of great poets who also help facilitate this writing group, I believe I am acutely aware of the personal struggles of the adolescents there because of my experience in counseling this population for many years now. I enjoy them so much, and I am always thinking of both writing skills as well as tools that will help them cope with the many traumas and stresses they face in their young lives. I thought I might share some of those with my readers.

Processing an Emotion

One skill I teach the teens is how to take a feeling and squeeze every drop of sensation from it. I encourage them to describe in great detail the thoughts, body sensations, colors, and images associated with it. A common exercise we do is giving the emotion 5 senses. For example, if anger had a taste, what would it be? What color is anger, what would it feel like in your hands? Often we hold intense emotions in one side of the brain with no connection to positive neural pathways or even words! This exercise helps to make emotions more bearable and work them through.

Dealing with Obsessions

Another skill I teach the adolescents is how to "write out" an obsession. Often these children are plagued with anxieties or worries. I ask them to imagine that they have literally been eating whatever is the target of their obsessions or anxieties. If they ate this particular thing, what would we see running from the corners of their mouths? What would other people think or feel when seeing this? How did it feel to swallow? The kids love this exercise. One girl wrote, "There is no pain like mine. I have been eating your last words to me."

I believe our writing puts to words the pains that are often indescribable. I cannot tell you about the depth of my hurt, but I can describe the cold hand clenched around my throat, hoping to take my life. Bringing these feelings into being through image and sound puts them into a safe container. Writing about joy engages the same senses, but joy is not often a feeling that was forced into suppression, nor does it require safe placement. Joy is safe, and I'm more accustomed to writing about the forbidden. Joy, I feel it but am still learning to write it!

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