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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Speaking Out About Sexual Assault

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas. We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long.

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas.

We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long. Not everyone is at a place where they can speak out, but those that can should. It’s important to keep your self physically and mentally safe, but if you can speak out, it would be the most selfless action you can take to help stop this abuse. The more that speak out against sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, the more society will change.

This toxic rape culture that is so present today could become something of the past. Imagine a time when a sexual assault report is taken as seriously as a murder charge or theft charge. A time when the perpetrator is on trial and not the victim. A time when victims have support and perpetrators are abhorred and scorned by the public. A time when the majority of perpetrators go to prison instead of a fraction.

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With current events and recent movements like #metoo, it feels as if we are moving forward once again. More people are coming forward to tell their stories instead of staying silent. There will always be people who need to remain silent for whatever reason, and that decision is theirs and theirs alone. And that is okay. If you are not able to speak out, or don’t want to speak out. That is your decision and something that is in your control. Please never let someone make you feel ashamed because you can’t or don’t want to speak out loud about something so painful. Control was taken away, learn to take control of your life anyway you can. You may feel alone, but there are people out there who will understand and can understand what you went through.

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I first spoke out in a moment of weakness and fear. Had I known what would happen, I’m not sure I would have chosen that place and moment and time. A distraught elementary school student crying on the playground telling another child that they had been sexually abused. Immediately the school and police were involved. I was forced to tell my story over and over again. I was one of the lucky ones. After two years, one of my three abusers pleaded guilty. He went to jail. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop him.

As an adult, I am eager to share my story. It is still painful, but knowing that the pain I went through could help prevent someone from being abused or ease their journey by the slightest, is enough for me. That is why I chose to write a memoir. Instead of focusing on what I endured, I chose to write about the obstacles I had to climb over and how I did it. I know that everyone is different, but I hope that reading a success story will help build hope in strength in those who are still struggling.

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If someone close to you told you that they had been sexually assaulted by someone else that you were close to and trusted, would you believe them?

 

 

 

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.

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?