Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy

By Gillie Bolton; Stephanie Howlett et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The passion of science, the precision of poetry:1therapeutic writing-a review of the literature

Jeannie K. Wright


Introduction

What is it about writing that 'strengthens' the writer and how far has research been able to answer some of the questions associated with how 'writing therapy' works? Recently, large-scale studies have tended to emerge from a cognitive behavioural perspective (Lepore and Smyth 2002), but this is not the only orientation to investigate therapeutic writing in individual counselling, psychotherapy and group work. It could be argued that 'writing therapy' has also been restimulated by the development of narrative approaches (White and Epston 1990; McLeod 1997; Pennebaker and Seagal 1999) and computer-mediated methods where keyboard and cyberspace have replaced pen and paper. This review aims to map major, cross-disciplinary developments in the therapeutic use of writing in the English language over the last 30 years. The use of writing in cognitive analytic therapy and in journal writing will be addressed in later chapters and is not the focus here.

A continuum exists in the growing body of literature on therapeutic writing between the polarities of a 'scientific' and a 'humanities' approach, or between 'mastery and mystery' (Bakan 1969 quoted in McLeod 1994). On an international basis, those practitioners and researchers who come primarily from a literary arts or creative writing background tend to describe the 'soothing and healing power of poetry' (Bolton 1999b) for example. Drawing on their experience of clinical practice (Fuchel 1985; Gilbert 1995; Moskowitz 1998) or of facilitating creative writing groups (Bolton 1995, 1999b, 2000; Hunt and Sampson 1998; Hunt 2000) the therapeutic benefits of writing are explored with an enthusiasm verging on the evangelical: 'Creativity is not a tool. It is a mystery that you enter: an unfolding: an opening process' (Rogers 1993:105).

Those who follow a more scientific paradigm, from disciplines including immunology, health and social psychology seek to 'master' the phenomenon by measuring, explaining, predicting and analysing the results of randomised, controlled trials. The Pennebaker paradigm (Pennebaker and Beall 1986) has been

1 I am indebted to the poet Diana Syder for this part of the title which is, she says, from V. Nabokov. Unfortunately neither of us has been able to trace a reference.

-7-

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