Summary of the MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes course
This summary gives an outline of key components of this course if you are thinking of applying. Please email us if you have questions arising. If you come for interview there will be a chance to ask questions then as well.
Introduction: What is Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes?
Creative writing for therapeutic purposes (CWTP) is expressive, reflective and autobiographical fiction writing that can be in any form, and not necessarily ‘written’. The aim of CWTP is to focus on the process of writing and the insights that are gained. It can be achieved through facilitation of groups, or one-to-one, and can be practised by individuals alone. It encompasses a variety of forms, some of which are described below:
James Pennebaker, who is a key research figure describes what is most effective when engaging in expressive writing, advising to ‘openly acknowledge emotions’, ‘work to construct a coherent story’, ‘switch perspectives’ and ‘find your voice’. (Pennebaker & Evans, 2014: 17-18)
… is writing about our personal or professional practice, or writing about expressive writing that has already taken place.
‘Writing for reflective practice is a first order activity, rather than recording what has been thought, it is the reflective mode. Writing discussing and associated text writing (such as from different perspectives) is creative exploration in its own right. Reflection in writing facilitates a wider view at a distance, a closer acute perspective, and authority over practice.’ (Bolton,2005)
Autobiographical Fiction Writing/ Autofict(ion):
Fictional writing that draws on elements of one’s personal experience, but is not limited by it. ‘What the autobiographical form offers, though, is a way to get at what for me is a very difficult truth. Fiction can be a primary force in uncovering and displaying many varieties of truth. Fiction can reach into a mind, even a spirit. It has a possibility to divine and articulate what is often otherwise hidden and silent.’ (Bragg, 2009)
‘Bibliotherapy is the use of literature to promote mental health’ (see Hynes & Hynes-Berry, 2012 for a chapter on definitions of bibliotherapy, some of which include the above writing). Reading Bibliotherapy focuses on the interaction between the reader and the text, without facilitation, although a recommendation can support the reader to find the appropriate text.
Writing can be in cross art-form; in Appendix 11 & 12 are some creative ways of showing examples, which were produced by our 2012-2014 Bristol intake. Cross artform work is encouraged, incorporating words and narratives with other creative techniques.
One definition of ‘therapeutic’ in a personal context:
'Beneficial psychological change, which might include inner freedom, greater psychic flexibility, a clearer or stronger sense of personal identity, and an increased freedom to engage in creative pursuits.' (Hunt, 2000).
‘Therapeutic’ in a social context:
CWTP has the capacity to harness imagination and envision ways towards healthier societies and enhanced collective wellbeing for people and the planet. Therapeutic in a social context means addressing issues of inequality within structures and particularly the social, historical, political and institutional beliefs and behaviours which uphold inequalities. As a course we draw on categories highlighted in the Social GRACES: Gender, Gender Identity, Generation, Race, Religion, Age, Ability, Appearance, Class, Culture, Caste, Education, Ethnicity, Economics, Spirituality, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation (Burnham, 2012), a framework for the helping professions, which is constantly being critiqued and reviewed, and with which the course dynamically dialogues.
CWTP has the potential to actively address social issues (McCullis, 2013) and, as practitioners and researchers, we need to rigorously reflect upon, and consider, how we might uphold inequalities (such as deeply rooted systemic issues grown from white privilege, patriarchal approaches, thinking linearly, or hierarchically) either consciously or unconsciously, by educating ourselves on a continual basis through ongoing personal and professional awareness-raising and CPD.
Outline of Modules
Year 1 (10 weekends)
Module 1: Introduction to creative writing and its therapeutic applications
Provides an introduction to the two (equally important and interdependent) strands of the programme:
- creative writing and its therapeutic applications, including personal practice. Students will begin their own writing while studying examples of writing that illustrate the links between creativity and therapeuticoutcomes.
- critical review of the theoretical, philosophical and methodological grounding of research activities in the field. Students will be provided with an opportunity to reflect critically on the challenges of this growing field of practice andresearch.
Module One reinforces to students to a range of basic counselling skills, theory from person-centred and other relevant counselling models and the therapeutic relationship in a CWTP context. Practice of core counselling skills will equip students with listening and responding techniques, which are essential to employability in therapeutic practice.
Experiencing the role of participant and facilitator, whilst practicing key CWTP techniques (in large and small group work), the scene is set for students as potential practitioners, with an understanding of the participant experience, attitudes to the writer role and a range of creative processes and interventions shared in the group. Ethics, anti-discriminatory practice and limits of competence will be discussed. These are essential factors for potential practitioners. A list of industry organisations and relevant journals will be provided for networking and links with potentialemployers.
Students will produce a portfolio of creative work demonstrating their writing explorations; a reflective journal, demonstrating their reflective practice; and an assignment with reflective and critical commentary on theory advanced in the module, demonstrating their understanding of creative writing for therapeutic purposes at this early stage in the course. These exploratory and summarising skills are essential for evaluating and reporting on the creative writing for therapeutic purposes encounter and lay the foundation for students as research-aware practitioners.
Module 2: Reflective Personal Writing
Module Two builds on the knowledge and skills learned in Module One and concentrates on developing the students’ own writing, based on relevant writing exercises that exemplify or expand on creative writing for therapeutic purposes and counselling theories. Amongst these are autobiography (representing lived experience), autobiographical fiction (fictionalised lived experience), poetry, dialogue and structuring narratives. Students willconsider the ethics of self-disclosure and learn to respond to personal stories shared by other people. The module furthers links between some techniques within established models of counselling and creative writing for therapeutic purposes, such as Gestalt, Focusing and FeltSense.
Groupwork themes will be explored, including the links between narrative structures and devices, and ways of ‘telling stories’. Reflection on groupwork is encouraged in a Personal Learning Journal. Key skills in reflection and reflexivity will be developed, enhancing practices valuable to employers.
Attention to detail will inform discussion on form and content, including definitions of ‘writing’ and working with characters and voices. Being curious, developing empathy and understanding one’s experiences better are desirable transferable skills to the creative economy. Students will experience a Poetry Therapy workshop, based on the American model (National Association of Poetry Therapy), observing themselves as participants and framing the experience with foundational literature from the biblio-poetry therapy. Similarities and differences between the UK and US approach will be explored. Developing employability skills in communication and teamwork, the small group work will continue to develop problem solving skills, initiative and resourcefulness.
The termly assignment is similar in form to that in Module 1.
Module 3: Therapeutic Settings and Established Theories
With creativity still at the heart of each session, Module Three brings a change in focus towards practice elements. In this module students will study a range of settings in which creative writing is currently practiced with therapeutic aims and outcomes. Students will be encouraged to consider motives for working in particular settings and how self-care is an important element in building resilience. Themes include mental health, holistic healthcare, freedom, nature, body and the structure that a series of workshops may take to hold and support creative work. Students will encounter digitally recorded material from settings and may consider appropriate use of digital technology in different settings.
Students’ reflective journals will further develop reflective and reflexive skills with personal, practical and professional responses to a range of therapeutic settings introduced by tutors with first-hand experience. Ethical issues, such as access, competency and anti-discriminatory practice, will be considered. Belonging and Identity are foregrounded to support reflection on equality and diversity. This knowledge is vital to employers who demand an understanding of equality and diversity.
Assignment: Students will produce a critical essay, considering a setting of interest, including an understanding of the setting, motives for working in that setting, aims and objectives and suggested exercises for work with participants from that setting.
Year 2 (10 weekends)
Module 4: Facilitating Therapeutic Groups
With creative writing still at the centre of our practice, this module focuses on groupwork. Students will study the roles of both facilitators and participants in groups, including themes such as archetypes, methods of communication, power and control and the therapeutic relationship within group contexts. Awareness of groupwork is an important transferable skill to all employment situations.
Students will be supported to create two group workshops, applying a critical understanding of what they have learnt so far from their own experience and from engagement with existing research on therapeutic group work. Students will plan and present writing exercises to the group as a whole and receive feedback. Practical work in developing facilitation skills to a professional standard is key for employability where confidence in revising ideas, public speaking and empathic responses are key. The workshops are formatively assessed and students need to gain a pass for at least one workshop in order to proceed to Module Five.
At the end of the taught module students receive an interactive introduction to research methods. The research methodologies teaching is seeded throughout Year Two.
Assignment: Students will produce a critical account of one or both of the workshops, presented to peers and tutors, drawing on relevant theory and demonstrating development as a creative writing for therapeutic purposes facilitator and as a research informed practitioner.
Module 5: The Question of Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes
CWTP is explored creatively through writing and reflexive work and students develop ideas on their own areas of interest, bringing forward the professional aspect of presenting and discussing CWTP.
Students will study ways of framing their work in creative, therapeutic and social contexts and will independently research a ‘topic of curiosity’ to impart to tutors and peers, working on presenting information in a live presentation. The use of digital technology is welcomed (as appropriate) to support student’s presentations (e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi, use of film, audio material). These experiences of independent research, being heard and of processing audience responses in written reports are valuable to employability.
To develop their intellectual skills, students will focus especially upon outlining a topic, sourcing or creating relevant handouts, developing an appropriate timetable and choosing a medium for presenting information in a creative and accessible way.
Students will continue their training in research methods, particularly studying using narrative in research and phenomenological research methodologies
Assignment: This will draw together the practical task of presenting theoretical and experiential material to a group, building on responses and feedback and incorporating links to any digital resources employed.
Module 6: Research Methodologies for Therapeutic Settings
Building on prior work, this module will provide the final education and training in the processes and skills of research in CWTP, drawing on research processes, many of which have been developed from counselling, psychotherapy and social sciences research.
Students will receive research methodologies training in autoethnography, action research and case studies (adding to previous research methodology training on using narrative in research, thematic analysis and autoethnography).
Using creative exploration, this module will offer an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of relevant social science research methodologies and will facilitate consideration of the ethical issues relevant to research in these fields, and with different cultural groups. Students are invited to engage conceptually, practically, ethically and methodologically from the point of view of their own developing research topic/area of curiosity. This supports students to be research-aware practitioners, as well as preparing them for a research project at MSc level.
Students will present their consolidated ideas, with feedback and discussion from tutors and peers in a live presentation that includes key research skills. Assignment: Students will describe and evaluate their presented ideas on CWTP and potential research.
Module 7: Dissertation
This module builds upon the six taught modules in the programme. It provides opportunity for students’ own independent guided research, exploring a topic of specific interest to the student that is relevant to both theory and practice of creative writing for therapeutic purposes.
Through their dissertation (15K words), students will demonstrate their capability to identify an innovative topic, establish a research question or aim, choose and implement an appropriate methodology, analyse data and provide a report which will be of value to the research community and practitioners. The student is encouraged to provide practical outcomes such as workshop materials, ethical guidelines, practical guidelines, as appropriate.
Conducting independent research equips students for work where this kind of initiative, justification, planning, analysis and ethical consideration are required.
- Abram, D. (1997). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Vintage
- Bednarek, S. (2018) ‘How wide is the field?’ British Gestalt Journal 27 (2)
- Bolton, G. (2005) Reflective Practice. London: Sage Publications
- Bragg, M. (2009) Melvyn Bragg on Autobiographical Fiction. The Times, 9 February
- Burnham, J. (2012) ‘Developments in Social Grraaacceeesss’ in Krause I-B, (ed) Culture and Reflexivity in Systemic Psychotherapy: Mutual perspectives. London: Karnac
- Hatala, A.R. (2013) Towards a Biopsychosocial–Spiritual Approach in Health Psychology: Exploring Theoretical Orientations and Future Directions, Journal of Spirituality in MentalHealth, 15:4, 256-276
- Hunt, C. (2000) Therapeutic Dimensions of Autobiography. London: Jessica Kingsley
- Hynes & Hynes-Berry (2012) Biblio/Poetry Therapy (3rd Editon) St. Cloud, Minnesota: North Star Press
- McCullis, D. (2013) ‘Poetic inquiry and multidisciplinary qualitative research’ in Journal of Poetry Therapy. 26: 2
- Pennebaker, J. & Evans, J. (2014) Expressive Writing: Words That Heal. Washington: Idyll Arbor