Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health – 5

Another extract from the ongoing serialization of Chapter 7 of the Words for Wellbeing book…

Photographs of people, preferably doing something, e.g., sitting outside a café, sleeping, reading, making something. Writing about these can help the writer to look beyond their own life and problems. One way to use photographs of people is for each participant to choose a picture and then write about the person in the picture as if they knew them, which is what the man who wrote this did:

Peter: “My friend’s name is Jessica. She has red hair. She is a hairdresser and works all the hours God is prepared to give her. She knows all her customers and they all work for a living. After finishing work she goes to a disco with her female friends and she has a good laugh with her friends. The other day when she was working a woman came in the shop, broke down and cried. She said ‘Now that I’ve wised up I’m not prepared to waste any more years on that horrible husband.’ So my friend made her a cup of sweet tea and she calmed down.” [a quirky photograph of a young woman with scarlet hair who is holding a magnifying glass to one eye]

Published poems, e.g., we read two different poems aloud; discuss our reactions to them, which we prefer and why; then we each choose one poem, or a line from it, and write something in response.

The following was written in response to “The house is not the same since you left” by Henry Normal (Normal, 1993, p. 21):

Cate: “The poem suggests to me bereavement in the family possibly a man. The cooker is angry suggests that maybe it doesn’t get used as much now so it is angry at being left with no work to do. He used to watch the telly especially the football on Saturdays but not now, it stands switched off just catching the sun’s reflection from outside. What’s the point in washing up for one, who’s going to see the dirty pots anyway? The curtains count the days since he last opened them and stood in front of the window. Nothing speaks to me in the house any more, it holds no interest for me know you are gone. The armchair shows your empty space, the space you once took up. The kettle initially constantly on when you first left now stands dormant. No-one comes any more and I can’t be bothered. I’m sure the plants will die too once I tell them you have gone. Your mess has gone from the bathroom. How I used to moan about the shaving scum marks around the wash basin and the toilet seat always being up. What I’d give to see that once again. And now it just stays the same and I only need to clean it once a week. The bedroom door stays shut, I just can’t face the memories. If I keep it shut then hopefully all the good times and memories will stay inside. But on a night I have to sneak in and weep, the sheets and pillows remind me of you so much. I wish you hadn’t gone.”

Writing after a guided visualisation. The following two pieces were written after a guided visualisation that started in a garden and ended on a mountain top. I find guided visualisation works best if I don’t use a written script when I am guiding the group through the visualisation. I suggest to people they might like to close their eyes during the visualisation part, but I bear in mind that not everyone will feel comfortable doing that. The main drawback to using visualisations is that they take quite a long time to do and a patient who arrives late to the group (as quite often happens) might either interrupt the visualisation and distract the others in the group, or miss it altogether and then not have any inspiration for the writing after the visualisation.

George: “I was in a beautiful garden with a fountain and the birds and butterflies. I walked out of the garden on to a path which led into a wood with oaks and other trees. The path was winding a lot and there was an obstacle on the path. I passed it on the left side and then the path started to slope upwards. It became very steep and then I turned and looked down back where I had come from. The scene was very beautiful. On the path there was someone who looked like Julie. She gave me a bottle of water to drink. The path became very steep and it became apparent that I was climbing a mountain. At the top Auntie Annie was there. I asked her why she was there and she replied that it was to reassure me.”

Nigel: “I am sitting by a burn that tumbles down from the hillside, passing under a wall and then winding on downhill. The meadow beyond the wall has just been mown and the smell is wafting toward me. There are roses in the garden, red ones, pink ones and white ones. There are birds singing all around. I get up and walk out of the gate across the meadow to the belt of trees beyond. It has been very windy in the last few days and one tree has blown down across the path. I climb over it and continue uphill. A pretty young woman is coming down the path in hiking boots. She stops at a bend in the path to admire the view, as do I. She proffers chocolate, Cadbury Dairy Milk, which I accept. Neither of us speak, we just stand and look at the view of the valley spread out below. Fortified by chocolate I press on up the hill feeling pain in my knees and pumping in my chest as I push on upwards. The hill is one of those annoying ones that has lots of false summits. However, eventually I reach the top. There is a man sitting by a cairn. He is contentedly looking, admiring the view. I look at it too. The sense of calm that seems to emanate from him suffuses me and all my worries are lifted. I can see my future is bright.”

‘Sniff pots’ – grass that has been freshly cut and crushed is a favourite. Smells are very evocative and this exercise is likely to bring out memories. The first time I used sniff pots was with two women in psychiatric intensive care. We all chose the cut grass pot to write about and the two patients both wrote about distant but happy memories of their families – one (who was unable to write so I scribed for her) related a childhood memory of Easter egg rolling in the park with her parents (who died many years ago) and siblings, and the other wrote about a happy memory with her brother who she has lost touch with because of her illness.


Normal, H. (1993) Nude modelling for the afterlife. Northumberland, UK: Bloodaxe Books.

To be continued …


About Carol Ross

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

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