Wednesday, 14 August 2013

'Writing, Therapy, & Disclosure'.Revisited.

Changing Draft
 (Some further thoughts on this theme from a post  first Published August 2009)

Writing, Therapy and Disclosure  

An acquaintance of mine is going through a period therapy where her counsellor has suggested that she writes down accounts of matters that she finds hard to discuss.

As a writer by trade I've encountered the notion many times, that writing is naturally therapeutic in that allows the writer and others access to an individual's inner thoughts and feelings.  I've often argued myself that writing regularly acts to reveal - to yourself and sometimes to the world at large  - your inner thoughts and the wilder shores of your life experience.

So it seems inevitable that I should accept the proposition that writing, therapy and disclosure  are inevitably connected. However if you accept the notion too readily  the danger is that it can leave you feeling timid and exposed as a writer.

Thankfully I think it's all much more complicated than this.

Of course, in poetry and prose-fiction the wild surprise - public and private - of such revelations is codified by metaphor and language; by characterisation and contrived narrative. Even so, the wild things are still  buried in there somewhere, to be excavated - in time - by over-eager biographers. Perhaps this is  is a kind of archaeology of meaning.

I am glad to say that pouring yourself incontinently onto the page is a far cry from much personal and professional writing. Those wild things are discernible, self-consciously present in published diaries and journals - often self-censored, shaped up and edited to construct in retrospect an admirable self or a victim-self for public consumption.  They are even more self-consciously present it the contemporary rash of ‘Misery Lit’  memoirs that at one time had special shelves in some bookshops.

Those wild things are also buried in the stylised, ironic prose of journalists who use their own lives as raw material in personal columns, comments and commentary. And they are out there  there in cyberspace, in the un-refereed frenzy of self disclosure on websites, twitters and chat rooms. (And blogs – like this one, you will say!)

You might also say, of course, that getting the wild things ‘out there’ is all to the good. Writing, therapy and disclosure in any form is good for you, isn't it? Aren’t there  courses and workshops which train people in writing as therapy? Don’t some psychologists - as I said earlier - ask their clients to keep diaries to help with analysis?

But in my experience we have to be very careful about this process. I think that just to express and organise your thoughts in whatever form is an empowerment in itself. Submitting them to outside commentary or analysis may be to surrender control - yet again - of your own life.

I've had the privilege  of working with many people, new to writing, who experience a magical release and self-realisation when they find they can write down what has seemed forbidden or inexpressible.

Some of these writers have turned up in workshops. I remember one man - jolly, likeable, easy going - who wrote a hungry, chilling account of  his slavish existence  in an orphanage. He was proud of and - as we all were -  moved by his fluid ability to express his own sometimes terrible experience in rounded prose. One of his stories told of a Christmas when the orphanage had  an official visit from the mayor. Lavish food was laid before the hungry hordes of children. But the mayoral party was delayed for more than two hours and the children had to sit there with the food before them. Then the mayoral party arrived and boiling gravy was poured on their cold dinners and they were forced to eat and show their relish as a public display.

I have also  worked with women in prison, for some of whom writing was like lancing a boil.  This writing was published in The Self Revealed and Why Am I Running.  They appreciated seeing their writing out there in published form. They felt proud and visible. Empowered by their own skill.

I have written my own novel Paulie's Web - see the sidebar here -  as a fictional mirror of my perception of these lives. I've recently been re-editing this novel for a new edition for Kindle and for a future hard copy publication. So it is that I've addressed again the issues I met in the Residency. In some way the writing, therapy and disclosure cycle has re-occurred for me now, first in the writing of the novel and now in my intense re-editing of it. 

In re-reading the work of these woman's  work and mine I've wept with them again over more than one  free-flow articulation of a catalogue of abuse, confusion, despair and corruption of the self. Of course  this can happen to all people - including myself - not just those who end up in prison.   

I was - and am - always careful to say that although I see intense and personal value on encouraging people to write I am not a therapist. All I could and can do is to help individuals with the process of expressing, editing,  laying out and  producing a good looking document.

But I have observed that this level of control over the uncontrollable aspects of people’s lives seemed and seems to be an empowerment and is of itself therapeutic.

I do see that writing, therapy and disclosure has its place in our world. But often the writing is enough. As a writer myself, I know this .


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