Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health – 1

This is an extract from Words for Wellbeing book, follow link for details: https://trioross.wordpress.com/new-words-for-wellbeing-book-extract/

Chapter 7 – Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health

Have you ever thrown yourself into something and then just when it’s too late to draw back, you panic? That’s how I felt when I started a weekly writing group for patients in a mental health unit as part of the Cumbria Partnership Year of Writing (see Chapter 14 of Words for Wellbeing). I was motivated to start the sessions both by my own personal experience of the enjoyment and therapy that writing can bring, and by the large amount of research evidence I had been reading that shows writing can be of therapeutic benefit – both psychologically and physically (see Chapter 1 of Words for Wellbeing). But I was nervous – would I enjoy the sessions or hate them? Did I have the right skills? Would the patients gain any benefit? Fortunately the answers to those questions were: yes I loved doing the sessions from the beginning; yes I had prepared enough beforehand so that my skills were up to the job (but I am still learning all the time); and yes patients do seem to gain benefit from participating in the sessions (an evaluation of the 2010 sessions and of other Year of Writing workshops has been published, see Ross, 2011).

At the time of writing I am leading weekly groups in the mental health unit in which I started in April 2010, and in a psychiatric intensive care unit. In my writing groups I do not feel like a therapist or a teacher (I am neither), I feel I just sit down with some people, we get to know each other a little, and we write together. I believe that writing does you good, whatever you write, but that different people need to write different things and in different styles, e.g., thoughts and feelings, memories, imaginative stories, poems. What I aim to do is help people to discover what they need (or want) to write and inspire them to keep writing – and they inspire me right back!

Getting ready

I felt I needed to prepare really well before starting to lead sessions, which I did by:

  • Reading books and research articles
  • Attending training, e.g., psychological skills training and certificates in counselling and creative writing
  • Planning meetings with ward management, clinical psychologist, nurse consultant, occupational therapist and activities coordinator
  • Identifying a senior clinician willing to supervise my practice
  • Going through the Lapidus Core Competencies (Flint, Hamilton & Williamson, 2004) with my supervisor to ensure I have no competency gaps
  • Identifying an evaluation tool (Stiles, Gordon & Lani, 2002) for the pilot writing sessions and adapting it in consultation with ward management.

More to follow…


Flint, R.; Hamilton, F.; Williamson, C. (2004). Core competencies for working with the literary arts for personal development, health and well-being. London: Lapidus. Retrieved 28 February 2010 from http://www.lapidus.org.uk/ resources/fiona2.doc

Ross, C. A. (2011). Evaluation of Cumbria Partnership Year of Writing workshops. Cumbria Partnership Journal of Research, Practice and Learning, 1, 17-20. Retrieved 27 May 2011 http://www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk/uploads/Journal/CPJRPL%201%201%20Spring%202011%20p17%20Evaluation.pdf

Stiles, W. B., Gordon, L. E., & Lani, J. A. (2002). Session evaluation and the Session Evaluation Questionnaire. In G. S. Tryon (Ed.), Counseling based on process research: Applying what we know (pp. 325-343). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Edited version retrieved 11 November 2012 from http://www.users.muohio.edu/stileswb/session_evaluation_questionnaire.htm


About Carol Ross

Interested in therapeutic writing.
This entry was posted in Books, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health – 1

  1. I find writing very therapeutic, and it relaxes me. I write with others daily, and not only is it a social outlet, it helps me broaden my knowledge, by learning from other writers. ❤

    • Carol Ross says:

      I’m so glad to hear that. I love writing with others too and hearing them read. Writing can be a solitary activity but I think it’s good to do both .. writing alone and with others. And like you I learn a lot from the people I write with. Thanks for contributing to my blog.

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