Guest Post: Therapeutic Literature – Reading and Writing to tackle life’s major challenges

Writing to help you overcome your problems.

There are countless examples of authors who have used writing as a means of coming to terms with major psychological traumas in their lives. There are many well-known examples. Joyce Carol Oakes wrote of the loss of her husband in ‘A Widows Story’. John OatesTornado DownNicol, the navigator of the RAF aircraft shot down during the Gulf War, relived the horrors of his captivity in ‘Tornado Down’. We can find some examples even among the contributors to the Voice of Literature e-zine. Amanda Whitbeck writes about abuse and Keith Guernsey writes about his recovery from serious illness in ‘Fathers and Sons- Sports and Life’. But although writers claim to have benefited from these activities, is there any real scientific evidence that writing about your problems helps you overcome them?

The Theraputic Potential of Creative WritingThere is some. Gillie Bolton’s book ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing’, a how-to book on writing for therapy, has received the support of medical practitioners. There are a number of counsellers in creative writing for therapeutic purposes and it is practised in many countries, including the USA, UK and France. The Metanoia Institute, in Bristol UK, offers M.Sc, courses in it, validated by Middlesex University. It seems, however, to be thought of more as an alternative treatment rather than part of the mainstream of psychological counselling.

 

Can readers benefit as well as writers?

Not everyone is motivated to write about the major crises in their lives, but is there any benefit to be gained by reading about the experiences of others? While ‘Bibliotherapy’ developed out of the introduction of hospital libraries after World War I, the use of reading as a help for people with troubles goes back to the middle ages. In modern times reading is used in various ways in the treatment of psychological disorders, and scientifically controlled trials have demonstrated its efficacy for various disorders such as bulimia, alcohol addiction, sexual dysfunction and insomnia.

What kind of books?

There are three kinds of book which are in common use for therapeutic purposes. There are memoirs or journals, where writers write about their personal situation. This allows the writer to come to terms directly with their fears and feelings, while readers who have had or are having similar experiences can get some relief when they see others in the same position. Then there are self-help books, which offer specific advice on how to deal with what is causing the difficulties. These are of use in cognitive treatments, where the sufferer is encouraged to face up directly to their problems and work out solutions logically.

On the other hand, fiction books, prose or poetry, work in a different way. They use an ‘Affective’ approach where the fact that the victims of the trauma are not real people allows the sufferer to approach their difficulties less directly, thus reducing the emotional involvement and allowing them to discover a path to recovery more easily.

How does it work?

Serious psychological problems ought to be dealt with using professional counsellors, who may employ the techniques of therapeutic writing and reading as part of a programme of treatment. But if you are just finding life a bit difficult at the moment, can you turn to reading and writing to help you get over it? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to say it can help. It perhaps works as a kind of self-psychoanalysis, helping you bring the causes of your unhappiness and unease to the fore, accepting them and allowing you to move on.

Is it worth a try?

I think it is pretty well a truism in psychological healing that if you think it is working, it is. My advice, as a complete non-professional, is that if you find reading or writing makes you feel better about your problems, keep doing it.       

Contributed by  James Gault

 

James Gault

 

Links for James Gault:

Amazon Author Page; Facebook Author Page

James Gault Book Links:

Ogg; The Redemption of Anna Petrovna ; Teaching Tania

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Saying it Out Loud

Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really should have to be.

So often I’m with someone I know. Someone I’ve talked to enough to tell them that I was molested as a child. We will already be in the midst of a emotionally charged conversation when I say:

“I was sexually abused as a child.”

There is something about that phrase that will make the nicest people I know verbalize violence against those who hurt me. This last time was a very sweet woman I’ve known for about 3 months and she has never been anything other than kind, but with this reveal, I saw her face and demeanor change in a flash. On one hand you could say it’s because she is a women and we women have to stick together, but I don’t fully agree with that. I’ve known male friends who had the same reaction. Time and time again, I’ve revealed this bit of history about myself and I’ve seen all types of reactions, but I have yet to reveal to someone who didn’t believe me.

Well, aside from when I first spoke out as a child. As an adult, I’ve never be accused of being a lying attention seeking brat or a family destroyer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had negative reactions that leaned towards blaming a 4 year old version of myself for not telling someone sooner. I’ve had to explain to them that these abusers raised me to be complicit in these activities in much the same way that a child will clean their room or eat their vegetables. They don’t want to, they don’t like to, but they do it because an adult they were told to trust by a parent told them they have to do it. As a child, being sexually abused was equivalent to eating my broccoli at dinner. When I explain this to them, I see realization hit their face. Childhood sexual abuse is much more complicated than they expect, and it’s not the same as adult sexual assault.

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Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really shouldn’t have to be.

  • Don’t drink outside the house
  • Don’t get drunk
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Don’t have sex
  • Don’t let anyone fix you a drink
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t dress inappropriately
  • Don’t walk inappropriately
  • Don’t tease men
  • Don’t be alone with strangers
  • Don’t walk outside at night
  • Don’t walk alone
  • Don’t wear earbuds or headphones while in public
  • Don’t enter isolated areas
  • Don’t sit in your car in a parking lot
  • Don’t give men the wrong impression
  • Don’t refuse a man’s advances
  • Take self defense classes
  • Stay aware of your surroundings
  • Keep pepper spray on you
  • Hold your keys as a weapon
  • Check inside your car before getting in
  • Stay on the phone when out alone
  • Always walk briskly, confidently, and unencumbered

All of these things are what women are taught so they don’t get sexually assaulted. This shouldn’t even be a thing aside from the fact that most of these only “protect” women from a minuscule percentage of sexual assault situations, not to mention that, and hold on tight here, MEN GET SEXUALLY ASSAULTED TOO! 

The lack of awareness not to mention the lack of appropriate awareness is staggering. Here are some facts that are backed by numbers:

  • You are 3 times more likely to be attacked somewhere you are comfortable instead of walking down the street or sitting in a parking lot. The majority of places where people are assaulted are in their homes, schools, daycare, church, work, and any other place you feel safe.
  • 3 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18. Picture that for a moment. In a classroom of first graders, if there are 8 girls, 6 of them will be victims of sexual assault before they are adults.
  • 75-90% of perpetrators accused will never see trial or jail time.
  • Less than 10% of people are falsely accused.

All of this knowledge and fact is based on reports that are estimated only get filed in less than 30% of those who are abused. Let’s thank RAINN for these numbers. Some of the stats I pulled a few years ago before they updated the page and I kept as notes while writing my Memoir.

We are emphasizing the wrong awareness. Instead we should be teaching children how to identify and say no to family members who want to touch them inappropriately. We should be teaching children personal boundaries and it’s okay to say no to an adult if something bad is happening. We should be teaching all young adults responsibility for their actions and the true meaning of consent. We should be teaching people that sexual assault is a horrible crime where victims struggle to survive. Anyone can be sexually assaulted by anyone. No one is automatically immune to sexual assault because of their age, gender, race, orientation, or any other aspect.

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The outrage for victims should be more than something shared between survivors, victims, friends, and family. Outrage for what is happening should be transparent and announced. Telling me that the thought sickens you does no good if you continue to vote, represent, protect, or support a perpetrator. That is just placating me and that is useless. I don’t need people — victims and survivors don’t need to be placated. We need to be heard and we need justice.

D.A.s need to stop dropping charges because it doesn’t seem like a win for them. Bargaining for a plea of guilty shouldn’t be the only way perpetrators end up in jail. Claims of sexual assault are not the victims fault regardless if they did something irresponsible. The person who sexually assaults another person for any reason is to blame and should be punished. When there is almost no threat of punishment, this horrible crime will not stop. Without that, child predators and even adult predators will continue to abuse because even if they are revealed, all they have to do is find a new victim. I’ll say it one more time…

Perpetrators will only stop when they know they will be caught and punished.

Legislation and culture needs to change so that victims are protected instead of perpetrators. Its wrong to sexually assault another human.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, I believe you. I don’t need to know your story. I don’t need to meet you. I believe and support the various campaigns that have started up to help awareness and survivors.

#startbybelieving

To Honor Those Who Have Moved On

In the last 10 years, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next.

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for over 10 years now. I hit the 10 year mark in July. In my time, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next. I’ve laughed and cried with them. Through all of this, I knew I would eventually write a book dedicated to those I’ve taken care of. It has been a long time coming because first I had to get my memoir finished, but while I look into getting that published, a new manuscript has taken over my waking thoughts.

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Usually during November, you can find me furiously typing away at my keyboard trying to keep up with NaNoWriMo goals. That’s National Novel Writing Month for anyone wondering. Basically, during the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world try to write 50,000 words of a novel. Averaged out, that’s about 250 pages. Quite the challenge. I already had 2 projects planned out because I like to bounce back and forth between the two, but a home health client said something to me recently that inspired me to attempt a third project during this year’s NaNo.

My working title is “To the Grandchild I Will Never Meet”. This is not MY story. This is not the story of a single person. This is a story of hundreds of voices over 10 years. This is a creative fiction story of regrets and hopes that I’ve extrapolated upon from many voices. This is the book that a person can read who has longed for a grandparent they never met, or don’t remember. I hope this book will give them closure if they are still grieving what might have been; to help them imagine what kinds of memories they would have had. I also hope it will help inspire people who are first time grandparents who don’t have memories of their grandparents.

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I’ve always wanted to help my patients and clients get their voices heard. Maybe one day I will help write someone’s story, but until then, I am writing what so many of them wished they could remember or live long enough to experience. Death is a time of longing and grieving, but I’ve learned to take their lessons to heart. Each client inspires me to change one thing about myself. Maybe it is to say “I love you” when I would be too shy or too busy. Maybe it is to remember that life is short and I should stop putting off tomorrow what I can do today. It could even be that I need to make changes in my life now so I won’t have the same regrets. Regardless, I feel honored to help each and every one of them, and didn’t know how else to thank them since most of them have moved on.

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Let this book show my gratitude. Thank you for the honor of assisting you when you needed it most.

The Art of Procrastination

Now I’m writing this article about procrastination while I procrastinate…

What is it about Procrastination that is so appealing? It’s not that we set out to procrastinate, but while we are doing it, it can feel soothing. And yet, so amazingly stressful. It is fascinating some of the excuses we justify just so that we can continue to procrastinate.

“It won’t take me that long to actually do it, so I can wait a bit longer.”

“I’ll start right after I finish…”

“It’s just not the right time to start yet…”

“I’m just so busy right now…”

My current procrastination project is my Memoir. I’ve worked on this book for two years now. I put off writing it because it was highly emotional, which I admit was some procrastination, but it was also that I really wasn’t ready for people to read my story yet. It took me a month to actually write, thank you NaNoWriMo. I spent 3 months pretending to edit which was me telling myself that I would get to it, but I was too busy with any number of things. A few times I told myself that it would wait because there wasn’t actually a deadline. Then Camp NaNoWriMo came around and I decided that it was time.

Now that I’ve revised it and edited it multiple times, I put off deciding how I wanted to publish. I did a lot of research, but even after I made my mind up, I kept putting off working towards publication. That was about a year. I know exactly what I want to do and how, but even with all the resources out I need, I still keep procrastinating. I’m currently working on:

  1. Making a list of Literary Agents
  2. Writing a query
  3. A last edit polish
  4. Finding Beta Readers

I find myself with prospective beta readers and I still can’t seem to get myself into gear.

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Now I’m writing this article about procrastination while I procrastinate… Talk about avoidance. What is it that makes us put off something that is clearly important to ourselves?

It could be that due to the high emotional nature of my memoir, I am just not ready to put it into print. It could be that I’m having some self esteem issues now that I have a beta reader and don’t think my writing is up to par. Maybe I feel that my story isn’t important enough for other people to read. Or better yet, maybe my fear of rejection has stopped me in my tracks and is filling me with excuses. I can’t be rejected if I don’t try… right?

So while I am being honest here, let me admit to what I find myself doing instead of getting my memoir finalized.

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  • Cleaning detailed things that could take a long time
  • Cooking unnecessary and over-complicated recipes
  • Over researching pointless or useless information
  • Starting new writing projects
  • Reading books
  • Starting new craft projects

I’m hoping that I will pep talk myself with this article so that I can get myself moving forward.

What have you been putting off lately and why? What tactics and excuses do you use to justify it?

This post was featured on Voice of Literature e-zine.

To Memoir or Not to Memoir…

A lot of people question whether or not they should write a memoir about their life.

A lot of people question whether or not they should write a memoir about their life. I just finished writing a memoir myself and I have a lot of people tell me that I’m too young to write a memoir. So let’s talk about what a memoir actually is. A memoir talks about a specific aspect of the writer’s life. So it could be a specific event that spans a very short time, or it could be several years but still pertains to that specific event. There are a lot of misconceptions about memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies, even for those in the writing/reading world.

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For example: A person is deployed overseas, sees action, and struggles with C-PTSD. If the writer limits the book to their deployment, wartime action, and the struggles they endured afterwards because of the deployment; that would be a memoir. If that same person’s book started when they were born until current day, that would be an autobiography. If a writer wrote a book about that person, studied their entire life, and wrote the book from birth until death – that is a biography. In theory, a teenager or even a child could write a memoir. Age has no correlation to memoirs.

I recently finished my memoir about surviving childhood sexual assault (CSA). It was limited to the time that I was being abused, the Complex – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) I suffered through for years afterward, how I overcame my C-PTSD, and then the re-incarceration of my abuser when he was convicted of recently raping another child. My memoir focuses on how that abuse affected my life and the cycle of abuse. It does not talk about my life before the abuse or aspects of my life that were not affected.

When it comes to reading, I read all types of books, from memoirs and biographies to most genres of fiction. It can be hard for people to change genres or from fiction or non-fiction, but sometimes it is nice to read something from the norm.

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Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What person in history would you like to read more about?

After defining a memoir, would you ever consider writing one? Have you already written one? If you would consider writing one, what would you like/need to write about?