Reflection on Writing Groups
Just my 2 regular 1-hour writing groups this week – psychiatric intensive care (PICU) and an adult mental health ward.
Adult Mental Health Ward – yesterday’s session was quite a typical one. There were 4 patients altogether, 2 women and 2 men. I’ll call them Paul, Liam, Teresa and Fiona. All but Paul have been to one previous session. Paul, Teresa and Fiona all arrived at the beginning of the session. Liam arrived after about 15 minutes once he’d finished in a session with a Clinical Psychologist. Liam and Paul stayed beyond the hour of the session, Teresa left after about 45 minutes and Fiona left once the hour was up. It’s fairly typical in a mental health ward that some patients arrive later or leave early for all sorts of reasons (going out on leave, coming back from leave, going into a ‘review’ meeting or a treatment session, feeling tired/fed up/ill, to mention just a few) so I find several short exercises work better than one long one. This time I used 3 groups of picture postcards (photos of places/landscapes) in the session. We each chose one from the first group of cards and wrote for about 2 minutes – just writing what we could see in the photo. The idea behind this was as a warm up for writing and a grounding of our writing in the here-and-now (which I think is important in acute mental health settings). For the second group of cards we wrote for about 4 minutes about what the photo made us think about, a memory for example. Everyone wrote the kind of thing I expected, although all different. Teresa decided to leave after the 4-minute write, after hearing everyone’s writing (I always make it clear that participants should not feel obliged to stay longer than they want to). It may just have been that Teresa wasn’t feeling very good, or perhaps she just felt less inspired than she had in a previous session she attended. This is also typical – inpatients feel better some days than others, as do we all. For the last part of the exercise we wrote for 10 minutes and the brief was to write the story that the photo suggested to us. For this last part I spread all the cards (about 18) on the table to give plenty of choice. Fiona and Liam wrote with the most confidence and inspiration in this 10-minute write and both seemed to really enjoy the writing. Paul wrote for the full 10 minutes but he wrote in response to 3 cards, rather than 1, and he wrote more descriptively than imaginatively. It may be that he would prefer word prompts to pictures. When the hour was almost up I asked Liam, Paul and Fiona to complete evaluations and then Fiona left the group. I gave Liam and Paul one more writing exercise to do while I completed the forms I needed to do. The exercise was “Theatre” (the same as I used in my monthly group last week) from the book Writing Well: Creative Writing in Mental Health (p. 93). Because the 2 men were already warmed up (writing-wise) this exercise worked very well and they each wrote an interesting and inspired piece.
PICU – it was unusually noisy and busy in PICU today. There were people talking and the TV in the next room was quite loud. The one patient who came to my group (the same young woman as last week) stayed for 40 minutes and then went back to her room. I think we both found it more difficult to concentrate with the distractions. This is a drawback of holding the group in the communal dining area, but on the plus side the open nature of the group attracts “passing trade” and usually the dining area is quite quiet and calm when we have our group. Because I knew that the patient writes songs and plays guitar, I started the session with Freewriting in response to musical prompts – 2 minutes per word for drums, guitar, piano and flute. Neither of us really did Freewriting in that we wrote short lines, she because I think she hadn’t relaxed into the writing yet, and I because when I write with this particular patient I feel inspired to write poetry rather than prose. For the second exercise I spread out a silk scarf and on the scarf 9 largeish squares of cloth of different textures, colours and patterns. We each chose a fabric swatch to write about. I suggested that we should think about what could be made from the fabric we’d selected and then about who might own it and then start to write. My companion chose a bright fabric with a bold colourful pattern and some gold areas. She wrote a beatiful flowing piece about African woman dressed in bright fabrics. It was quite a nostalgic piece as she originates from the country she was writing about. She wrote much more fluently in this exercise and had very evidently relaxed into the writing. Once we had read our writing aloud and discussed the writing, she felt she had written enough, and felt that she’d stayed in the communal area for as long as she wanted to. I’m fairly sure she will have left PICU by next week so I wished her well and said how much I had enjoyed writing with her.