There is something about the online environment which has been very liberating.
Writing for therapeutic purposes is different from writing as a craft or for publication. The focus is on process rather than product, and a workshop or course involves the sharing of words in a safe supportive space.
As someone who has facilitated therapeutic writing groups face-to-face for 15 years, I know how transformational this experience can be. So I was excited and interested — as well as a little trepidatious — to see how the experience would work online.
Anne Taylor and I worked hard to design our Therapeutic and Reflective Writing course with a clearly defined approach to learning.
We wanted students to experience writing for their own personal development and explore how they might use it professionally in groups or with clients of their own.
The feedback and reflections from our students, and our own assessment of how the course ran, shows that the experience seems to have been wholeheartedly positive.
The students on each of the small course groups quickly develop a supportive online community and benefit unanimously in a range of ways, making powerful shifts in their personal lives.
In their reflections on the course, they have described the online experience as ‘liberating’, ‘embracing’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘life affirming’. The writing shared in the forums is often deeply profound, sometimes tear-jerking and a privilege to read.
There are numerous occasions where exercises offered up new insights and gifts — and some people claim to have left the course with a totally new perspective on their lives.
At times it felt as if it was the online environment that afforded an intensity and intimacy that led to these meaningful shifts. As one student puts it:
There is something about the online environment that 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.
– Therapeutic and Reflective Writing student
Any concerns that Anne and I — or the students themselves — had about being able to hold a safe and boundaried space for the sharing of sometimes very personal material were unfounded.
“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,” was another comment.
The format of the eight-week course, where students can post work to forums to a weekly deadline and then reflect on the work of others, worked too.
The way in which the course is structured means that people can work through a series of reading and writing assignments in their own time.
This allows them to fully immerse themselves in the online experience in a way that isn’t possible in a weekly group meeting.
The assignments are broken down into bite-sized, accessible tasks so that ideally they can be spread over the week, but as we see, everyone has their own way of managing their time:
“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 people taking this course reflect generously on one another’s writing, and in a way that could be much more fulsome and considered than it would be if people were sitting around a table.
We talk on the course about how as individuals we are ‘multiple’, presenting different personae to the world according to context.
This is true both on and off-line, and I am struck at how much I feel we have got to know each other as a group over the duration of the course, even though we are spread across the world.
Eight weeks is a relatively short time and yet the online environment meant we were immersed in each other’s worlds through writing.