‘Writing for wellbeing’ works with the power of words to create insights, growth and healing. A simple prompt, for example, can open up a space that lets words flow and can help us find the things that are most important to us. Practitioners aim to promote good mental health and wellbeing, and to enhance personal and community development. They come from a wide range of occupations in: health, education, counselling, coaching, the arts, universities and charities.
There are opportunities for people to explore the power of words in all sorts of ways, either in writing workshops or combined with another art form. Poetry, narrative, music, family therapy, yoga, meditation, walking, hip-hop, counselling, arts on prescription, nature, environment, storytelling – these are just some of the areas in which members of Lapidus International practice writing for wellbeing.
The purpose of this information sheet is to give a sense of the field of practice, its nature and participation, and a guide to the essential features of successful work. It is aimed at those who are beginning to discover writing for wellbeing and those who are budding practitioners. It is supported with comments gathered from the members of Lapidus International.
Where else to begin but with the people who come to a writing for wellbeing group? Generally they’re interested in working creatively with words, and they’re looking for a means of personal expression. People may:
o be interested in developing personal stories they may have been shy about writing;
o have had some mental health problems and creative writing has been suggested as a way to healing;
o have been drawn to therapeutic writing because they’re interested in autobiography or biography;
o have had a crisis in their life, be it bereavement or serious illness, or divorce, and they need an outlet to express themselves.
Writing for wellbeing groups can be run almost anywhere. They can take place outside, in nature, or in a hospital or cancer centre, in a school or library, at GP surgeries or care homes, in community centres, on a boat or in a supermarket.
Practitioners aim to establish a defined, protected setting where participants can trust the process and experience inner development, explore perspectives that improve their relationship with their world and grow their creative expression.
With this in mind, there are certain essential features of good practice that enhance participants’ experiences. To give an overview, these are briefly outlined below, and will be explored further in later information sheets.
‘The therapist or helper who establishes the atmosphere and provides the opportunities for therapeutic reading and writing can be likened to a midwife who assists in bringing forth that which has been gestating and is ready to be born.’ (p229, Chavis GG, 2011)
A client-centred awareness:
o Pre-information is shared concerning the venue, what to expect from a session, guidelines for participation, clarifying that this is not “therapy.”
o A planned and considered approach that fulfils the group’s expectations.
o Flexibility to respond to client needs with room for spontaneity.
o Awareness of specific services for signposting (bereavement, sexual abuse, mental health etc) and of what is available locally to participants.
A safe and supportive setting:
o Providing a physical environment that can meet participants’ needs. If the setting is outside, there is a clear understanding of facilities (access to or lack thereof).
o Confidentiality – ‘what is said in the group stays in the group’.
o A safety outline is shared at the beginning: each person is responsible for own safety, and encouraged not to ‘over-disclose’ about matters that are painful or private. Participants are invited to stick to ‘mild to moderate’ stories.
o A considered, containing and caring response should difficult material be disclosed.
Here’s an example of what can happen if a sense of safety is achieved: ‘One woman in the writing group who has severe anxiety and depression says that it is the first time she has been able to express herself and feel safe, and not feel belittled or ridiculed.’
A focus on process:
o An externalising process that creates a different lens or viewpoint.
o Individuals are able to work at their own pace.
o The session is not about spelling or grammar or the technique or craft of creative writing. Writing can be shared but is not ‘judged.’
Here’s an example of what can happen if this is achieved: ‘A participant on a writing course about animals and nature discovered she was really writing about bereavement. Afterwards she felt the course had helped her to cope with loss.’
A shared experience of trust and acceptance:
o Sessions are open to all.
o They build in opportunities for reflection.
o There’s a shared value ‘that everyone matters and will be heard’.
Here’s an example of what can happen if this is achieved: ‘Working with vulnerable adults with a host of medical and mental health issues – they have developed trust in one another and are willing to share what they have written, confident about safety and confidentiality.’
Lapidus groups: there are a number of regional groups of Lapidus practitioners that meet on a regular basis. https://www.lapidus.org.uk/members/groups
Training: see the Lapidus website for opportunities. www.lapidus.org.uk
1. Bolton, G, Howlett S, Lago C, and Wright JK (eds) (2004) ‘Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Therapy’, Hove: Brunner-Routledge
2. Chavis, Geri Giebel, (2011) ‘Poetry and Story Therapy – the healing power of creative expression’, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
3. DeSalvo, L (1999) ‘Writing as a way of healing: how telling our stories transforms our lives’ San Fransisco: Harper
4.Pennebaker, JW, and Smyth, JM (2016) ‘Opening up by writing it down: how expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain’, Third edition, New York: Guilford Press
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Next information sheet: How to create a safe setting for writing for wellbeing
Our mission: To grow communities who believe in the power of words to enhance and transform