By Dawn McHale
Since I was 4 years old, I have been writing and using artistic techniques to express myself. Having qualified as a Counsellor in 2001 and in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes in 2007, I have learned to incorporate creative approaches into my therapeutic practice in a range of ways.
Journaling is an excellent way to extend therapy for clients, offering them a space to process and explore what has come up in counselling sessions in a creative space between appointments. Inventive techniques can be as simple as adopting a metaphor for oneself, for others or for one’s life situations. Some may prefer adopting a strong formal structure such as can be found in poetry, taking a poem and using some of the lines as a prompt for one’s own writing. Others may prefer to use a mythic framework such as a fairy tale or other genres and to re-write the plot or ending. It can be very powerful and bring up deep or hidden issues, or challenge us to face something we have been avoiding or denying, peeling back layers to reveal our vulnerable underbelly.
Today, I still turn to writing, arts and crafts to express and explore what I call my core, and to gain a deep sense of who I am. Coupled with counselling qualifications that had a strong creative leaning, this has drawn me intuitively to blend the two together. Further training also led me to become a supervisor for other counsellors; I have found that in this context, too, creativity opens up a welcoming, accepting space to explore anxieties, challenges, celebrations and ethical issues of the work in a flexible and original way.
Clients have come to me for Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes on its own, as a means of exploring specific issues they have identified and wish to consider solely with this approach. Others have come for counselling with no penchant for creativity, and turn pale at the suggestion that they may have hidden layers of creativity within them to be tapped, as this appears to take them back to school where they often felt small and ashamed at being told they lacked genius.
I encourage all clients to feel they are creative beings, that they have hidden talents and layers that offer space and voice for all, whatever and whoever they are, no matter what their educational background. This is a freedom, a rich vein to be mined, and even if they cannot find a physical space for creativity, I encourage them to create a mental image of one, or to escape into a mental space where change is always possible. This connects to visualisations, to mindfulness, to giving our needs, wishes and dreams a name, or at least some creative form in order to envision them, to realise them and to allow their possibility.
Alongside my private practice, I devise and facilitate Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes workshops and storytelling sessions. I have been involved in creative writing workshops sessions for Finding Sanctuary, Bristol City Council celebrations, Writing Edge at local libraries in areas of deprivation, teaching creative writing at City of Bristol College, and in local libraries, for LinkAge, and for carers.
Forthcoming events include a new Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes writing group in Bristol and a storytelling evening at ArTeas Cafe in Cardiff on April 16th. I will also be running two workshops at Brean Down on May 8th and June 11th combining landscape and writing in partnership with the National Trust.
I would be very interested in running a taster session for practitioners at The Practice Rooms if there was enough interest. For more information please call me on: 07941 979790.
About Dawn McHale
Dawn McHale has worked in health and wellbeing settings for over 30 years. She is a counsellor and supervisor, and has published articles and poetry. Dawn has a Diploma in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, has delivered presentations at a range of conferences and workshops on wellbeing and the creative process for Mind, Cruse Bereavement Care, LinkAge, Carers, Self-Injury Self-Help, SARA, Bristol City Council, City of Bristol College, and the NHS. She is Treasurer of Lapidus South West, the national organisation for arts and health.
Perspectives, Spring 2016 – Links to other articles in this issue
An interview with the art psychotherapist Cyndy Walker on the nature and the advantages of art therapy.
An exploration of the history and the practice of ‘Body Mapping’ with the psychotherapist Annette Schwalbe.
TPR spoke to the hypnobirthing specialist Kirsty Wick about the complexities of childbirth and her multifaceted approach to helping expectant mothers prepare for the event.
The healer and shamanic practitioner Hannah Pearson explores the links between wellbeing and self-development.
Morwenna Lewis has chosen a poem for this issue of Perspectives and explains its special significance to her.
‘Reflexology for Fertility: A Comprehensive Practitioner’s Guide to Natural and Assisted Conception’. Written by Barbara Scott; diagrams by Harriet Combes.