Over the past few years, I have been offering ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshops for staff at my university, and more recently for a group of secondary school teachers. As a PTP in training, I had to think about the best way to frame the workshops, knowing that ‘poetry therapy’ may not appeal or mean much to many people. I billed it as a workshop for personal and professional development that advocated the use of creative and expressive writing as an effective way of reflecting on our professional practice and on ourselves.
Within the context of an increasingly competitive and ‘output’ oriented environment of universities, it quickly became apparent that a two-hour safe space for engaging with emotions and the self was a much-needed medicine for many people. For schoolteachers the response has been the same: the pressures of our education system leave no room for reflection, for healing, for self-care.
The process underpinning my workshops comes from a fusion of the principles of PT practice (Hynes & Hynes-Berry 2011: responding, creating, juxtaposing, reframing) with ideas from reflective writing as developed by authors such as Gillie Bolton (2018, 2013, 2011). Typically, my workshops are built around a theme (e.g. ‘Balance’) and include a 4-minute warm up writing (how are you feeling right now? Is there one word that captures that feeling? Use the word to write for 4 minutes). This exercise helps people ‘land’ in the room and begin to switch off from the noise of day to day work pressures. We then go through two or three writing exercises, using images and poetry as prompts. I include time for sharing thoughts about the process, and – if people choose to do so – extracts from written responses.
A further aim of these workshops is to provide easy tools for people to take away, to use for their own personal writing practice. Many people have come to the workshops saying, “I don’t do this sort of thing”and have gone away saying “I need to do this every day”.
Feedback and reflections from participants refer time and time again to discovering that this kind of writing is liberating. Simply switching the brain’s focus on the process rather than the product has powerful results.
Sadly, the demands of testing in schools and performance outputs in universities have stifled creativity and space for reflection. Workshops with teachers in secondary schools revealed the key question: ‘how can we write from the heart in a professional context?
This has become the quest at the basis of my workshops: there must always be room to write from the heart.
by Anne-Marie Smith
PTP in Training (UK)
For more information about my workshops please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org