The magic of therapeutic writing is often experienced sitting around a table in an intimate group setting. There is enormous power in writing together and having our words witnessed by others in a safe space, held by a skilful facilitator.
When Victoria Field and I embarked on the challenge of carrying some of that alchemy into a virtual learning environment with the launch of our online Introduction to Therapeutic and Reflective Writing course, we approached the task with excitement, but also some uncertainty. Would it be possible to provide a safe, supportive environment for participants to learn, share and develop?
We have been both surprised and gratified by the results. Since its inception and launch two years ago 120 participants from 19 countries have completed the ITRW course and the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. A fair number of participants have described the course as ‘transformational’ in terms of their personal and or professional lives. What’s more, the online environment has provided unique benefits to the group process that we weren’t expecting.
The ITRW course sits within a virtual learning environment designed and set up by the Professional Writing Academy, a company that specialises in teaching writing online, and which is in the vanguard of online learning. It uses a social constructivist model which puts a sense of community and ‘learning empathy’ at its heart, fostered by a pioneering system of peer feedback.
Our aim was to provide participants with an introduction to the various strands of therapeutic and reflective writing through the experience of writing and sharing in a small group of no more than 12. The course covers the use of expressive and creative writing in the form of Journal Writing, Biblio-poetry Therapy, Life-writing, Reflective Writing, Writing in Groups, and Writing, Metaphor and Coaching. Under the guidance of two tutors ( Vicky and myself) and a moderator, participants post writing and reflections to a weekly deadline and then post reflections on the contributions of others.
We’ve garnered a significant amount of feedback from participants, who have come to the course from a range of backgrounds and for a range of reasons, some using it for CPD, personal and/ or professional development.
Online facilitation and group work provided a rare opportunity for cross disciplinary and international working between writers, therapists and counsellors, teachers, coaches, health professionals and others through creative writing and storytelling. The course has attracted participants from across the globe.
Feedback also demonstrates that the online course arena and forum model to be a safe and supportive space to share experiences, writing, discussion and ideas, some of which was highly personal and emotional in nature. Participants felt safe and held by their peers and sometimes ‘more liberated’ sharing in the small online community than in a face-to-face setting.
The peer feedback model, which asks participants to read and comment in writing on one another’s writing and reflections on the process provided new and rich perspectives and a further reflexive layer to the work. The forums are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to allow equal opportunity to for people working in a range of time zones.
Word is getting out. We are looking forward to starting a course later this month [September] with two cohorts and another in January. We have also launched a supplementary course called Running Writing Workshops for those who wish to build their confidence in setting up and running writing groups themselves. Many participants are Lapidus members or become so as a result of taking the course and we are proud of our role in extending the organisation’s reach and that of therapeutic and reflective writing worldwide.
Close to 120 participants from 19 countries across the world including Europe, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Australia and Colombia have completed the ITRW course. Here are a selection of their comments:
‘There is something about the online environment which has been very liberating. Removing the possibility of face-to-face embarrassment or reticence has freed me to be more open and take more risks with what I share.’
‘I have felt really held and inspired by the tutors and our online community. This was a concern at the beginning but very quickly I felt safe and embraced.’
‘The format for giving feedback worked well for me as I sometimes get a little bored with ‘live’ online forums. I valued reading others’ work and being able to post my comments on them online in my own time.’
‘The community was what really buoyed me up – more than I could have imagined. I’ve moved on through issues and I’ve been moved through sharing with the group. I found that heart-warming and life-affirming.’
Introduction to Therapeutic and Reflective Writing course and Running Writing Workshops run three times a year and we offer a discount to Lapidus members. The courses are designed and led by Victoria Field, a writer and poetry therapist, mentor-supervisor, teacher and tutor and Anne Taylor, a writer, teacher, coach and facilitator specialising in writing for personal and professional development.