Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health – 2


A typical session

Recruitment of inpatients to attend the group is by a combination of posters advertising the sessions, discussion with ward staff and visiting the communal areas just before the session to ask who would like to join in.

I bring pens and paper along to each session, a supply of the forms I use (evaluation questionnaire and feedback form), plus whatever stimuli I plan to use – objects, pictures, etc.

Before the session starts I speak to a member of ward staff about who might be interested in coming to the group and either accompany them on a tour of the unit to let people know the group is about to start, or go directly to the activities room to clear art materials and pictures off one of the tables so we have room to write.

The group participants generally arrive over the course of several minutes so I chat with the early arrivals until it seems like everyone is present who plans to be and then start the session.

The first 5 minutes or so of each session are taken up with explaining what the group is about, getting to know each other a little, and reassuring group members, for example: that they are writing only for themselves, that no-one else needs to see anything they write, and that things like spelling, grammar, handwriting and punctuation don’t matter at all. Reassurances are important, not least because some people had a bad experience of school and are initially worried that the group might be like school.

I have developed an outline programme for the sessions: introductions, reassurances and explanations; a short writing exercise, e.g., freewriting (see Chapter 1 of Words for Wellbeing at this link: https://trioross.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/words-for-wellbeing-extract.pdf) from 4 prompt words (2 minutes per word); a longer writing exercise; completion of evaluation forms. My writing sessions typically include around 25 minutes of writing and 25-30 minutes of reading aloud (our own writing and sometimes published poems) and group discussion. Participants are under no pressure to read aloud, but in practice almost everyone does at some stage. Feedback suggests that the sharing of writing and the group discussions greatly contribute to the benefit felt by participants.

Depending on the individuals who come to the group, the sessions sometimes extend beyond an hour. The extra time is not used for writing, but rather for chatting over coffee, reading and discussing poetry, talking about ideas for writing, and discussing possible homework and the plan for the next session.

At the request of the ward manager I now write some of my observations in the patients’ care records.

The group takes place in the ward activities room, which is a light modern room. We do not have exclusive use of the room for the session, which means other patients do occasionally come in to sit with us for a while or to do an art or craft activity. The activities room is described in the following poem, which was written while I was on a Writing in Healthcare course at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre for Wales (Tŷ Newydd, 2012):

Hadrian Writing Group

I am in a light, airy place.
White walls are strewn with coloured shapes,
a stream bed of giant pebbles.
A giant could fold these walls out flat,
make himself a huge abstract painting.
There is a mess of art stuff scattered.
Paint pots and brushes beside a sink.

Pictures and poems on the walls.
A Dolly Mix of plastic chairs huddle
round two white Formica tables.
Our table is near the windows.
Our heads are bowed, eyes downcast.
Our hands are moving, sliding over paper,
pens softly scratching in the hush.

I can hear birdsong,
faraway voices.
My muscles are relaxing,
tensions easing.
Our minds are calming,
finding flow,
a sense of

In the next installment I will talk about rapport and group dynamics.


About Carol Ross

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

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