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The use of creative writing with individuals experiencing substance use

Posted by Sarah Pocock on 2019-07-10

There have been multiple studies exploring the use of creative writing interventions as a recreational tool for adolescents and adults experiencing substance abuse1.  The research findings were sourced from multiple published peer-reviewed articles about creative writing tools within various facilities, such as inpatient, outpatient and school settings2. Based on the findings, it seems that the main focus of therapeutic creative writing interventions is either used as a prevention tool or as a form of treatment3.

Creative writing is helpful as an intervention tool for this particular client group, as it helps with managing emotions, coping skills, and connecting with social supports. According to the research, it appeared that writing and listening to music were the top two responses from clients when asked which interventions they used as a coping tool4. As a result of this client response, the creative writing techniques used were poetry, freewriting, clustering, and expressive writing tactics. It was also used in combination with music in the form of lyrical analysis, as it was determined to be an equally effective therapeutic technique for this particular client group5. The creative writing themes highlighted in the research were positive and negative experiences with drinking, emotional topics relevant to the individual, encouragement and relapse prevention, recovery and maintenance, installation of hope, decision making, emotional conflicts, and relationships6.

The research suggests that creative writing is an appropriate intervention tool and can benefit individuals experiencing substance abuse in ways such as leisure skill development, decreased drinking intentions and improvements in depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, and physical health7. It has also been suggested that creative writing can further increase self-confidence/self-esteem, social skills, social/emotional self-expression/self-disclosure, coping, self-awareness, and trust and help with achieving the individual’s goals8.

Using this research, I delivered a creative writing program within a previous placement. The results seemed to be rewarding to the participants and were insightful for myself. The creative writing program was facilitated for one hour every week over the course of four weeks. Each week, there was a new topic relevant to the client’s needs. Participants were encouraged to free-write whatever came to mind within that topic. Participants would then share their responses with the group if desired. Over the four weeks, participants bonded over their shared experiences, which increased their emotional and social connections with their peers. Participants also found it easier to express their thoughts by free- writing them, which led to further participation during group discussions. Some clients even expressed feeling less anxious after writing their thoughts down – which relates to the coping technique that creative writing can be used when working with clients. However, as the research suggested, some topics were harder for individuals to free-write about than others, which required more time free-writing, followed by discussion. It was also noted that some individuals chose to not participate during a discussion with the group on some of the heavier topics. 

Overall, it was found that creative writing can be beneficial for a Recreation Therapist to use as an intervention. I would use this technique to further connect individuals with their peers, as well as a possible coping tool. I recommend creative writing to not only this specific client group, but to any client group to further improve quality of life.

Reference (for all footnotes)

Snead, B., Pakstis, D., Evans, B., & Nelson, R. (2015). The Use of Creative Writing Interventions in Substance Abuse Treatment. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 49(2), 179. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.mohawkcollege.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=mohawk&db=edb&AN=108890069&site=eds-live&scope=site

 

Sarah Pocock is a Recreation Therapy graduate from Mohawk College and continues to further develop her skills and experiences by volunteering at local community programs for indiviausls living with various mental illness.