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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A Life Changing Writing Prompt

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so one. What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so on.

What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

During a panel titled “Writing About Your Life”, which I figured would mostly be about stuff I already knew since I spent the last 4 years writing a memoir about my life, I learned that I truly believe I am where I am supposed to be in life. After finishing the writing prompt, I felt like this would be a good exercise to share on my blog.

So, you start off by picking an event that changed the course of your life. Then you write a summary about what actually happened as you remember it.

The first thing that came to mind was the day that I almost attempted suicide. I was already struggling during my freshman year at high school, and every little mistake I made always felt like the end of the world. Every failure, no matter how small, was just a constant reminder that I was a failure as a person and good for nothing. So on this particular day, I was supposed to give a speech about a sentimental object in my English class. There had been a fight at home the night before and I had forgotten my item and my speech at home. Since it was a scheduled speech that we had to sign up for ahead of time, failure to do the speech on that day would result in a failed grade. No exceptions. So, when my name was called, I told the teacher I didn’t have my speech and walked out of the class.

Now up until this point, I had done a lot of research about the best ways to commit suicide. I had already decided how I wanted to kill myself, but I hadn’t chosen a place or time. Quite often I kept a small pocket knife on me because I would walk to school every day. On this particular day, I decided that my knife would be the perfect way to end my misery. I was sitting in the hallway just outside my classroom. The door to the classroom was at the end of the hallway so there wasn’t much foot traffic.

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My mind was on an endless loop of every failure that I’d had up until that point in my life. A broken record of being told that the childhood sexual abuse that I endured was my fault. That because I was abused as a child I ruined their family. My own voice in my head told me that I would never amount to anything and that I could never escape the cycle of abuse.

I slowly pulled the knife out of my pocket and opened the blade. The glint of the shiny silver blade intrigued me. It was peaceful knowing that something so beautiful would put an end to my miserable life. As I started to pull the knife to my own throat and prepared to tilt my head down so that it would only take one swipe, a classmate that I knew walked by at that exact moment. Startled, I quickly hid the knife before my classmate could see what I had. He only gave me a simple hello and continued to walk by.

It was in this moment that I realized I had hit rock bottom, and the only way I would be able to survive was to get up, feed my stubborn nature, and fight to live the life that I wanted. I told myself that someday I would no longer be a victim, but instead I would be a survivor.

Now the second part of this exercise was to write about what would’ve happened.

For me, there is a very short would have been scenario. If that classmate had not walked by me at that exact moment… It could’ve gone two ways. Either I would’ve slit my own throat and died, or I wouldn’t have made the cut deep enough and been taken to the hospital. If the second scenario had happened, I probably would’ve continued to spiral out of control until I managed to take my own life.

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The third part of this writing exercise is to contemplate what should have happened.

I will admit, that at first, I struggled to come up with an answer for this.

Among the 30 or so people who were attending the panel either typing or writing away, here I sat at a loss for words. What should have happened in that pivotal moment? The only answer that I could come up with was that what actually happened is what should’ve happened. I spent somewhere around 10 minutes trying to come up with another answer. Something witty or creative, but in the end what actually happened felt like it was exactly what should’ve happened.

 

Now I know this is kind of a dark piece of writing. It was a very dark time in my life, but I wanted to take a moment to show that when we reflect on the actions of the past we may find that however dark that moment was, we managed to find the light. It wasn’t right away that I knew I had made the right choice. For several years I considered suicide, but it no longer made sense for me. The idea of struggling to survive no longer sounded daunting. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I had a goal and it felt achievable.

Humans like to ask question, “What if?” What if this thing hadn’t happened or on the flip side what if this thing that didn’t happen did happened? Quite often, we sit and reflect on our decisions or non-decisions of the past. Rarely do we feel confident that we made the right choice. Usually we only reflect on the wrong decisions when we should be reflecting on the right decisions.

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Take a moment to think back about a big decision you made that you know was truly what should have happened. Then use that to have confidence in yourself.

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

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?

 

 

 

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?