Writing for Therapy – Introduction Blog 3 of 6


Pick up a pen

Sharing words that you feel (or maybe didn’t know you felt), is a heightened experience when expressed through poetic language – without the restraints of sentence structure and with freedom of expression.

Faced with four students who were in prison for murder,  torture, and knife crime, writing poetry sounded an impossible class to take. They were men with their own ideas and, with a little guidance, managed  to translate raw emotion into words.

One young 3 times murderer sat in class and said, ‘I can’t write anything it hurts too much.’ – Such is the power of words. His childhood had been depraved beyond belief. Expression of thoughts can lead to rehabilitation. I repeat – counselling is a specialised field. Through Writing for Therapy students can listen to themselves and if they choose, they can help each other and seek out helpful resources.

Words can be used to underline perverted behaviour as well as relieving problems, this is a journey to a destination that is not one a tutor would personally want or want a student to go down. As with all therapies, there can be a downside.

Sharing written words with the homeless, and mental health patients is a means of expressing raw emotion and a recognition of amazing insights.

A lady who was agoraphobic was able to write meaningful poetry and, eventually read her poetry in public. I taught the poetry – not the mental health rehabilitation – that was the job of other professionals. Writing for Therapy was a stepping stone for her.

A popular topic these days might be weight loss or financial issues. A marriage breaking down was happening to a student with arguments all the time. They were able to work out that the problem was not each other, but the stresses they both had and together they should shift their attention to working together on issues.

This is an outcome that was right for them. All students and situations are different. This anecdote happens to show what would be considered a positive outcome. Another outcome maybe helping someone to help themselves through a divorce. That could be positive in a different way.


How do we convert a creative word association to poetry if you have never written it poetry before?

Take a sheet of writing paper. Draw a margin down the left and right hand side.

Take ‘one’ word from your word association and start writing.

Keep your poem to the topic you have chosen.

Try to use more than one of your words.

Don’t write complete sentences – write your thoughts in short phrases.

You have a kind of poetry.

If you are Writing for Therapy it is about the subject you have chosen – not about writing perfect poetry. Creative Writing is about writing great poems. People who can write poetry so often use it as a therapeutic expression – it comes naturally to them.

I write poetry to entertain and make people laugh. That is a kind of therapy.

When teaching Writing for Therapy or Creative Writing, with the freedom of language and touching someones inner thoughts, comes responsibility. When the words are out, what do you do with any far reaching outcomes?

As a tutor you should be part of a team and know where to refer people if someone wants more help.  This can be part of a plan as a result of analyzing word associations. Students should look for the resources they need to pursue a plan , and ask around. If you are writing for therapy on your own, look for resources, take action.

It’s like a shopping list of what you need to do. Resources are not always associated with the problem, but to a broader spectrum of answers.

For all of us poetry can be a meaningful tool. Reading  and listening can be powerful. Make poetry a voyage of discovery. Listen to poems they can cheer you up, make you think and share empathy.

Some people only  write poems when they are struggling. This is a shame – try writing positive, happy poems and reading them as well.

In most places there are poetry groups and poetry readings – an opportunity to make friends and meet people.

Poetry can be used in any rehabilitation situation or ongoing day to day living.

To write a poem you don’t need to be any sort of expert, it doesn’t even matter if you can’t spell. Launch into it. Think about lyrics for songs. Some don’t make sense but they work in their way. What is your way? Experiment if you are brave enough – share and don’t let anyone put you down. Usually they won’t.

The aim is to start   – you don’t know where you might end up – it is a journey.

Try to progress from writing for therapy to writing for pleasure.

Sharing your thoughts with paper is sharing. Only if you want to, do you share your words with other people, written words can be an easy way of organising your thoughts before speaking to someone. If people shared more with someone they value or trust it would save a lot of angst. If you can’t share – seeing yourself on paper can take you further along a path.

When my group of homeless people at the day centre started to write and express themselves openly, for some of them it was the first step back into the world of education and work. They enjoyed the achievement of writing and sharing. For some that was never going to happen, but their stories have left permanent thoughts with me. We published a poetry book for them.It was a great idea but I felt we couldn’t sell it openly as some of the phrases and poems were so good I wasn’t sure if they were really theirs.

If you have a poem written for therapy or a poem you love that someone else wrote about their experiences, (with their permission), please share it in the comments.

Next week – A writing tool kit with exercises.

Writing for pleasure – my book –  a wonderful means of expression and a way of life. –

Marriage a Journey and a Dog.