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An alcohol & drug rehab clinic

Creative Writing in Addiction Treatment

Creative input during rehab treatment can help restore a spiritual balance and build up a recovering person’s self-identity.

Why Writing?

Through exploring our deepest feelings and trying to put them into words we have found that Creative Writing:

  • Helps patients to identify and express feelings sometimes too difficult to express in conversation or group;
  • Provides inspiration and a means of changing negative feelings;
  • Helps to organise chaotic thoughts and to focus on what's really going on;
  • Opens minds to new interests;
  • Provides practical writing skills that can help in future life (e.g. in the workplace).

People with ‘thoughts that do often lie too deep for words’ (Wordsworth), such as trauma victims, people with learning difficulties and people who are introverted, recognise the help they get from poetry. We turn to poetry for help at intense moments in our lives and for many the help that it provides comes as a pleasant surprise.

What happens in Creative Writing Therapy Group?

Therapist Chris Burn, author of ‘Poetry Changes Lives’, leads our Creative Writing therapy groups.

“Writing has great benefits for those in recovery, but it needs to be interesting as well, so we normally start with a short presentation to ‘add a bit of colour’.”

Patients from ECU meet once weekly and the group begins with a few words of welcome, when the ideas behind the course are briefly outlined. This could be about the lives of famous writers (Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce or the reclusive Emily Dickinson), their actual writing methods (in bed (Proust), standing up (Hemingway) without clothes (Victor Hugo)), or perhaps a You-tube clip of a writer speaking (say, Dylan Thomas reading ‘Fern Hill’).  

The group are then asked to report back on assignments given the previous week – perhaps a poem or a short story that they have composed, and the other members discuss.

After this, the group look at one or two writing techniques that can be helpful in making a piece more interesting, perhaps metaphor or oxymoron, or else they look at writing styles generally.

Members are then invited to try some classwork using these techniques. Classwork is usually writing short poems, on a theme, which help to focus the mind and express feelings. Doing this work in ‘real time’ encourages spontaneity and can produce remarkable results.

The classwork is then discussed and assignments to do for the next meeting are decided, before finishing.

Chris Burn says: "I think that the participants recognise how writing, especially poetry, can help them express themselves and find a sense of their own identity. In recovery, the struggle to change can often be so painful, but these workshops bring some enjoyment and inspiration to the process. For many, this is a very welcome development and they respond with great enthusiasm and creativity. I personally find that deeply impressive.”

Patient Feedback

Feedback from participants has been positive and many expressing surprise at the intensity with which they engage in the process.

‘It’s so simple but so unbelievably helpful to control my emotions and feelings’. (Jethro)

For some it becomes a way of appreciating the idea that recovery is to be enjoyed:

‘..really considering studying English Literature alongside my psychology studies because of this class..’(Laura).

In the Creative Writing workshops, participants often write short poems (e.g. a haiku (a short poem of three lines) to help focus their thoughts:

One day at a time -
Will not use, just dance and smile.
I feel the laughter. (Tim)

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Now she laughs again.
It sounds like hopeful music.
Her soul is now free. (Laura)

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All the eyes in the sky
Are looking at mine.
Why don’t they see what I am seeing?
Is it because they are blind? (Rick)