Developing concept of Therapeutic writing workshops and the Active holidays project
Introduction: Renata Ažman, 45, journalist, writer; mental health service user; author of two books, Japajade (Tuma, 2005) and Depra (Celjska Mohorjeva družba, 20071; Chipmunkapublishing, 2007); since 2008 honorary fellow of the Center of Excellency in Interdisciplinary Mental Health, University of Birmingham.
Everything begun with the diary ...
I have been living on writing as a journalist for the last 25 years. I've been diagnosed as manic-depressed in 1993, being three times hospitalized, always by force. I wrote two books about my mental health condition, Japajade and Depra. Japajade was written soon after my last hospitalization and published in 2005 as a fiction biography, while Depra is a diary of my last longer depression. In February 2007, when Depra was published in Slovenia, depression and other mental health issues were more or less hidden and burried deep into the individual, intimate sphere. Nevertheless, after three weeks, Depra became a bestseller and issues on depression gained attention from many magazines. We created the web page www.depra.si and started to promote positive attitude in the process of solving mental health problems. I started to recieve "thank you" letters and I realized publishing Depra was a step forward in the process of destigmatization of mental health issues in Slovenia. In September 2007 Depra was translated into English and in October I visited University of Birmingham and the Center of Excellency in Interdisciplinary Mental Health for the first time. The Writers group invited me to share my experiences with writing and publishing books about mental health issues with them. The Director of the Center professor Ann Davis became my menthor and encouraged me to continue with writing and with workshops because my knowledge and experiences - she said - helps other people. So I prepaired the program for the first Therapeutic writing workshop and in April 2008 I accomplished it in Birmingham. After that I had workshops in Slovenia, mostly in cooperation with Ozara, the National association for quality of living. The feedback is very good and we have plans for the future.
The Therapeutic writing workshops.
The program is based on my successful experience in writing therapy.
The concept of therapeutic writing that I have been practicing is based on the three levels of the transfer between the individual and their surroundings and with themselves. The cause of many mental health problems lies in patterns that became a part of our inner world during the process of primary and secondary socialization and in the unsolved traumas that block us in harmonic and creative functioning; writing can help us to make things conscious and to partly remove the causes of our troubles and it enables us to create a certain distance from them.
While writing a diary, a letter and a story during the workshop, we talk about serious problems and we try to take a look at them from a distance. Workshops are usually organised as one day or five day event. After the last 5-day workshop in Birmingham in April this year I got this feedback from the members of the group:
All the participants said they had gained a great deal from the event. The main areas they referred to were:
The open, creative approach.
The availability of the workshop leader to provide individual support as well as group working experiences.
The way in which the workshop leader created a safe, trusting working group that supported individuals and treated them with respect.
The way in which they felt valued as individuals and their work was given attention throughout the event.
The time given to group work and to individual work helped people develop their creativity and skills.
'IT WAS A BRILLIANT EXPERIENCE'
'I DISCOVERED THINGS ABOUT MYSELF AND MY ABILITIES AS A WRITER THAT WERE SURPRISING'
'I FELT APPRECIATED AND SUPPORTED AS AN INDIVIDUAL'
'I AMAZED MYSELF WITH THE WRITING THAT I DID'
'IT MADE ME FEEL THAT IT WAS WORTHWHILE TO CONTINUE WITH MY WRITING'
'I FELT SO GOOD'
'I WENT THROUGH SO MANY EMOTIONS AND FELT I COULD USE THEM TO EXPRESS MYSELF'
'I FOUND THE GROUP HELPED ME AND RENATA WAS INTERESTED IN EACH OF US'
'I FELT PART OF A GROUP AND THAT MADE ME FEEL GOOD'
On the bases of results and experiences with Therapeutic writing workshops I created the program of Active holidays, the intensive workshop hollidays. The project is in the process of realization.
The Active holidays project.
The program of Active holidays project is a combination of the vacation, therapeutic writing and some other art-therapies (painting, dancing and puppet therapy). The project will be organised in cooperation with National association for quality of living, Ozara. We work with artists with the reputation and experiences.
Barbara Bulatoviæ graduated in 1989 at the Ecole Superieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette, Charleville-Mezieres (France). After post - gradual studies of puppet stage design at Prague Academy DAMU, she returned back to Slovenia and after having settled in Ljubljana, she proceeded a number of workshops among students, amateurs and professionals, dealing with both : puppetry and of exploring the world of abstract. She says: "My aim is to create the conditions for spontaneous self expression, a therapeutic creative act that is a tool in the developement of an actor, a person, a child."
Dalibor Bori Zupancic, artist, specialized Art Therapie on Hogeschool Nijmegen, Nederland. Now, following his own understanding of artistic participation in modern life, he is working in Psyhiatric Hospital Vojnik, Slovenia, where he performs individual and group art therapy with patients, through and also after the period of hospitalization. He says: "Art Therapy starts when Art becomes mad. And yet, it is happening, because Art is only a Mirror of the World in which we live ..."
We also work with the society Bayani practicing dance as a therapy. Julia Tomšič is graduated psychologist (1999 at the Technische Universität Berlin), specializing in clinical psychology and finishing the education in Integrativ theraphy at the Fritz Perls Institut and Nataša Kočar, graduated profesor of Sociology (2002, at the Faculty of Arts), are both certificated dance teachers, developed their own way of art therapy through dance. "Dance is a creative media, through which one can experience and develope mind and body awarness. This can help people to express themselfs through movement, where they can find connection with themself and also others. The goal is to feel good about your own body and soul."
The Self-therapy concept.
We work on the bases of the Self-therapy concept.
I think the main question for us with mental health problems is:
"How can I help myself and how can my experience help other people?"
(Only in that case the mental health experience is not useless.)
Self-therapy is useful, it helps, it is the cheapest and it lasts forever. The Therapeutic writing workshops and Active holidays give people the opportunity to learn more about some self-therapies which can be very successful in apropriate commbination with the psychotherapy and medications. I think the question of social responsibility is not reffered only to our relation to the nature and enviroment. I think the basic relationship of every individual is the relationship to oneself; I am responsible for my health including mental health. Thinking that someone else will solve my problems is wrong and it is waste of time. That's why any kind of self-therapy is extremely valuable and I think the society and the government should support it.