Love Pain & Poetry

Write for Life

Write for Life is a Love Pain & Poetry initiative to encourage the world to write for 15 minutes a day for mental health therapy. Everyone is encouraged to participate. 

Writing is what the doctor ordered

Write for life

“The artist does not see things as they are, but as he is”. -Alfred Tunnelle

One of the most paradigmatic Sigmund Freud´s pieces of work is The Schreber Case. In this essay, Freud comes up with clinical and theoretical hypotheses based on the analysis of Daniel Schreber's book Memories of a Nervous Man. This brings up some important questions: Do all writings have a self-referential character? Can this expression tool become a therapeutic tool? Many psychologists share the opinion that a writer projects himself or herself in his/her writings. Therefore, these writings can be useful tools during a therapy. In fact, according to Hammer, it can be strongly affirmed that every act, expression or response of an individual- his gestures, perceptions, feelings, choices, verbalizations or motor acts/ in some way bear the imprint of his personality. A large number of authors have studied the creative process as a diagnostic and clinical tool. Naumburg, for example, supports the idea that art and spontaneous artistic expressions can open a window to repressed material: emotions, conflicts, fantasies, etc. Kramer asserts that the artistic process is a socially acceptable way of expressing sexual or aggressive impulses. Personally, I consider that there are at least two characteristics which relate art to psychology: symbolization and projection. On one hand, symbolization is crucial during a therapy because it helps the patient to make contact with thoughts that usually remain unconscious but have an impact on his/ her daily life. During the therapeutic process, there are some elements that can be identified within the speech of a person which imply an important value unknown by the person until that moment: repeated patterns, ideas that imperceptibly determine an action, historical events that didn't seem important. This is similar to what happen in fictional writing when a disruptive element arises and surprises the writer: It’s usually something that is not related to what he/she was writing about that seems to have been unintentionally slipped. Sometimes it can be even a self-referential element whose historical value was unnoticed . Therefore, if the person can take note of this and continue working on this surprising or awkward element, an advance in symbolization can occur. On the other hand, according to the definition given by Laplanche and Pontalis, projection is the operation by means of which the subject expels from himself and locates in some other person or thing, qualities, feelings, desires, even objects which he/she does not recognize or reject from himself or herself. Since creative writing promotes projection, the writer can make a character do or feel certain things, for example, someone who feels the same way he feels or does something he is not sure he can do himself. Moreover, to write a story, a novel, a play or a poem to some extent is a way of exploring other possibilities of living without being full personal committed. So, writing is a mean to explore issues/ sensations that are part of the psychic life without taking any risks. However, the creative work is expanded when becomes a systematic practice, takes place in certain environments or is guided by someone who has a wider expertise. Referring to this, Nachmanovitch (1990) says “in ancient Greek thought, the temenos is a magic circle, a delimited sacred space within which special rules apply and in which extraordinary events are free to occur. My studio, or whatever space I work in, is a laboratory in which I experiment with my own consciousness…” In addition to this, expressive writing is often used as a therapeutic tool in several clinical settings either by itself or as a complement to traditional therapies. This is the field of Art Therapy, where art and psychotherapy merge and enrich each other. According to Tessa Dalley, art therapy is the use of art and other visual aids in a therapeutic or treatment environment. Solomon Tousón proposes that the process of creation for therapeutic purposes can be divided into four stages: Expression: to represent censored, absent, inarticulate emotions. Moment of "catharsis". The central attitude is spontaneity. Contemplation: the person examines, pays attention and recognizes what he has produced as own. It implies examining from a new perspective what was outsourced, giving value to both “errors” and a “successes” and allowing to be surprised. The attitude is affection and respect for the piece of work. Elaboration: the person elaborates (orders, enriches or embellishes) what he has produced, becoming responsible for his work. Appreciation: moment of reincorporation of the creation that has been made. Therefore, in this wide field we have identified writing therapy as one of the forms of Art Therapy. One of the pioneers of writing therapy is Pennebaker, an American social psychologist who has researched the link between language and recovering from trauma. This therapeutic tool can be used with adults as well as with children and teenagers. Children are much more in touch with the creative process as the free playing, drawing and invention of stories are a substantial part of their daily life. In the childhood, the artistic production is often as spontaneous as the playing and it is the way of self expression by excellence. Consequently, we can conclude that writing is a tool of self expression that can open a window to emotions or thoughts, both conscious or unconscious. Creative writing also offers the possibility to explore from a psychological distance: the writer can make his characters perform prohibited or rejected acts, face or suffer fears, perform fantasies, live situations of the past or future, etc. Furthermore, putting into words emotions that appear puzzling or confusing to the subject provides the opportunity to delimit them and make contact with possible causes. Besides, we can say that the requirements of aesthetics imply the effort to re-elaborate what was initially cathartic and the creation of a new product: the piece of art. Finally, writing can also be used as a tool in a therapeutic process based on the binomial creation-cure. “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I write and I understand”. Chinese Proverb


Maria Sol Berti is a Psychologist specialized in child, adolescent and adult counseling. I have used the word as a work tool for many years, and strongly believes that questions & new answers are the key to problem solving. Bibliography Dalley, T.: Art as Therapy: An Introduction to the Use of Art as a Therapeutic Technique, Social Science Paperbacks, 1984 Hammer, E.: Clinical application of projective drawings, Illinois, 1990 Laplanche, J. ; Pontalis, J.: Diccionario de Psicoanálisis, Paidós, Buenos Aires, 2013 Nachmanovitch, S.: Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Los Angeles, 1990 Pennebaker, J. W.: Writing as a means of healing; studies show benefits, HealthFacts, 1991 Rosal, M.: Abordajes de Arte Terapia con Niños, Abbeygate Press, Hillsborough, 2012 Rubin, J.: The Art of Art therapy, Routledge, 2011 Touson, S.: El dibujo y la terapia. Creación y curación, Ea Ediciones, Buenos Aires, 2002

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