Three people came to my group today.
First we chose an object from a small selection (cut glass scent bottle, small box in the shape of a cottage, another small box and a bamboo pot pourri pot with a lid). I explained to the 2 first-comers (the 3rd person arrived a bit later) that they could write to describe the object, making sure to include other aspects than just its appearance. I explained that writing ‘from the senses’ and in the ‘here and now’ can be very calming and relaxing – a sort of writing meditation. Because the one of the patients was aleady writing when I arrived and the other told me he likes to write stories, and also because they didn’t launch straight into writing about their object, I went on to say that if they preferred they could write about who might own the object and what they might use it for, or write about a memory the object evoked for them. I often adapt an exercise like this once I’ve assessed how adventurous the individuals are likely to be in their writing. Often it’s a balance between giving clear direction about the exercise and ensuring I allow scope for people to write what THEY want to write.
One patient wrote about the bamboo container and about the oldish woman that he imagined might have to keep trinkets in. The other man wrote about the scent bottle but he decided not to read what he had written. I wrote a 1st person piece about an old lady looking back over her life after finding a photo of herself taken just before WWII.
The 3rd patient entered the room then. She sat a little apart from us at first but when encouraged she came to sit with us. She said she had been nervous about coming into the room and uncertain whether she would be welcome in the group. With our reassurances she soon felt comfortable with us and did some writing.
In the 2nd exercise I spoke to the young man who likes to write stories about how he finds a way into his stories. He likes to read and get inspiration from books, often continuing where the story ends. I suggested that one way into a story is by making up a character. I spread out about 15 photographs of ‘unknown’ people on the table – some doing an activity such as reading, drawing or making something, some sitting in a social situation or alone watching TV, etc. A real varied selection. The 3rd patient was writing something she wanted to write (I always tell people that it’s fine to do that) so the other 3 of us each chose a photograph and made up a character – giving them a name and then writing about them. The brief (as is usual in my groups) was quite open – either to describe the person in the photo, or to describe their imagined personality and life, or to write about them in action (the trick is to explain this broad brief in a clear way so as not to confuse anyone, and also to tailor the brief to the individuals). Being the 2nd exercise we wrote for longer – perhaps 10 minutes. We all then read aloud and talked a little about the experience of writing our piece and about each other’s fictitious characters. The 3rd patient joined in the discussion.
Next I got the patients to complete evaluation forms (very short). I’ve started to do this before the last writing exercise rather than at the end of the session and to explain at that point that an hour is a long time and that I wouldn’t mind at all if anyone felt they wanted to leave before the end. I feel this is an improvement over my previous practice of getting people to complete the evaluation at the end. My reasons are: (i) if someone leaves early it is disruptive to the group to ask them to complete a form at that time so I have a dilemma – do I disrupt the group or lose an evaluation form? (ii) it seems to me pleasanter and more therapeutic to end the session with a final writing exercise and a chat rather than with an evaluation form.
The last writing exercise (all 3 patients stayed) was based on one I’d seen done on TV with a big group of school kids. It was led by a young woman poet I can’t remember the name of. My interpretations is that you write a short list of things you really like, such as: big castles, horse riding on the fell, a Chinese banquet, drinking coffee. Then you write out short sentences that all start with “I am..”, e.g., “I am a horse galloping on the open fell” “I am a Chinese banquet with crispy duck and pancakes” “I am a huge frothy cappuccino with chocolate on top”. My idea was then to create a spoken poem by each saying one line in turn. It would have worked well I think but one patient had to go off to a review meeting and the other man went for a smoke.
So I chatted a bit longer with the 3rd patient, read what she had written (at her request) and helped her complete the evaluation form because she hadn’t been able to find her reading glasses.
After the session ended I went to the ‘resources room’ which is like a meeting room with patient notes in it (amongst other things). I wrote up the feedback forms and wrote a short note in each of the patients’ notes folders then finally went back out into the scorching sunshine that we are just NOT used to up here in the north of England! Not that I am complaining.