The paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot said that it is only in play that the individual discovers the self. Creativity is at the heart of therapeutic development and positive change; the ability to approach something with an openness and a curiosity to see what might come up, to find ways of getting at what sits just beyond our conscious minds, allowing it to emerge into the light to be viewed, and examined from different perspectives.
Writing is one of the best ways to access our authentic inner voice – the bits that get easily covered up, rubbished, or we are too fearful to confront head-on. We begin constructing defensive barriers early on in life; we listen to our inner critical voices that constrict and scold and hold us back, so often repeating unhelpful ‘life-scripts’, things that we repeat to ourselves and which rubbish our abilities. So a little playful trickery woven into the writing process can help unleash thoughts and feelings we never knew we had.
Writing about a situation that has contributed to stress, anxiety or depression can be cathartic. A letter that will never be sent – to a partner where there are relationship problems, or who has hurt or abandoned us; to a friend where misunderstandings have caused pain, or to a parent – this exercise is a form of creative play, because we know that the letter will never be sent – but it is this that releases us from our inner-censor, providing us with the permission we need to express how we truly feel.
Writing about a stressful or difficult moment in our life as viewed from another perspective to our own can be equally effective. Choosing an object – anything, say an ornament or piece of furniture in the room or place where a difficult scene is recalled allows us to remember, and re-experience from a different, and perhaps illuminating perspective. Imagining what a pebble or shell would make if they’d been listening in can shed new light on old, ingrained ways of seeing things that keep us stuck in unhelpful ways of thinking and feeling.
I promote creative ways of thinking for self-care with counselling clients through using different tools, but suggest they all be kept in a ‘Mental Tool Kit’. Imagine you carry around with you a tool-box. Every newly learnt understanding or technique, helpful thought or healthy belief should be mentally stored away in this tool-kit, which is carried everywhere with you, so that it can be reached into during times of anxiety or stress. Adding to it can then be a life-long practice.
Keeping a journal is one of the most creatively beneficial things we can do for wellbeing. Something happens when we put pen to paper that cannot be recreated on-screen: a slowing down, a conscious carving out of space and reflective time in which to allow the mind to wander, without pressure, writing whatever presents itself, no matter how trivial it may seem. Done regularly, this content will build up into something of substance that you have created, a story emerging that is unique to you.