11 Therapeutic benefits of writing and reading
Creative Writing as a discipline within academia and as a practice (both amateur and professional) outside of that arena, has reading at its core. Undergraduates learn to ‘read as a writer’ in order to develop technique and in community settings, in evening classes and in hobby clubs for all ages, creative practice is accompanied by reading many kinds of writing from stories and poems through to memoir and scripts. Creative writing has also been studied in relation to how knowledge is acquired in education as well as in relation to the maintenance of individual well-being. In settings from working with rights activists in post-conflict situations, from writing with hospice patients and staff to workshops with military veterans, Creative Writing is seen to provide a dynamic of shared writing and reading which appears to make other things possible. Apart from stories being shared, communities of practice are created, new life-plans or futures are imagined, and skills are gained which amplify the kind of identification and empathy discussed above.
Philosopher Richard Rorty (1989) said that ‘our society needs texts that promote compassion and persuade and show us how to feel the experience of others’ and the reading and writing of poetry and other genres has been used both formally and informally in healing capacities since at least the early 19th century (Mazza, 2001, and some say much earlier, as you saw above). Many critical studies referring to this work have appeared in the fields of psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychology (Heimes’ review, 2011). The use of a variety of writing methods (including metaphor making, journal writing, letter writing) in health and mental health disciplines is widely reported in professional literature of nursing care and other disciplines (Chavis, 2011; Mazza, 2003; McCulliss, 2011).
Writing in these ways involves reading, whether shared, in groups for example, or enjoyed alone, and it seems clear that the kind of transportation we’ve noticed here, along with the ability to identify and to empathise, may underpin some of these writing-based interventions. See here for more on some OU research into Creative Writing Interventions. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]