“There Is No Map and There Is No Road”: Theorising Best Practice in the Provision of Creative Writing Therapyi



A host of recent studiesii have shown that creative acts such as writing have significant psychological, social, and emotional benefits. In the past few decades many healthcare settings have implemented creative writing groups as a complement to more traditional medical interventions for a wide variety of illnesses. However, the relative novelty of creative writing therapy, coupled with its conflicting artistic and medical aims, may mean that a writer who is considering leading such a group might be unclear as to what her role entails: whether she is primarily a teacher, mentor, or therapist; how much control she should exert over the patients’ creative output; the type of feedback, if any, she should give, and how to respond to upsetting or disturbing writing. This paper explores how various experts, from both artistic and medical backgrounds, have theorised what constitutes best practice in creative writing therapy, focussing specifically on the treatment of mental illness. The paper concludes that, as with more traditional medical interventions, creative writing therapy will work differently for each individual – indeed, for some, it may have adverse side-effects. As such, a practitioner must adopt an intuitive, empathetic, flexible approach, practising intense and constant self-reflection, and allowing patients their autonomy while still actively nurturing their development.

Keywords: creative writing, healthcare, therapy, mental health, illness, identity, poetry, depression, arts therapy, care