The Writing/Therapy Debate

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I read an interesting article last week, and it got me thinking about the therapeutic and cathartic benefits of writing, and how admitting that writing can be therapeutic for a writer is such a taboo in literary circles.

I think that is absolute crap.

Writing can be therapeutic and cathartic, and still be literature. If writing something was therapeutic for a writer, that does not somehow detract from the artistic value or literary merit of a piece. Writing Purge: Rehab Diaries was therapeutic and cathartic for me, and I don’t think that is anything to be ashamed of. Sometimes writing helps the reader AND the writer. And that’s perfectly fine.

Original Rumpus article:

It is absolute crap, well said.

Stephen Elliott made a great distinction, among many other brilliant insights, the next day by email: “When I lecture I say, ‘Writing is therapeutic, but the reader is not your therapist. You pay your therapist.'” Which I take to mean: self-interest should drive therapy, and the interest of the larger project should drive the writing. I think this, along with Nick Flynn’s assertion that if he couldn’t write he’d never figure anything out, are equally important. And, if I may, Purge walked that line well. It was also one of very few books on the subject which disseminated information, in an engaging and artful manner, without being harmful to readers. No easy feat.

If writing about one’s most painful and personal experiences only yielded a book, I don’t think there would be as many stories out there. It’s terribly difficult, but writing these experiences can lead to self-discovery one may not otherwise have access to.

I like the Stephen Elliott quote you posted, as well as what you wrote: “Self-interest should drive therapy, and the interest of the larger project should drive the writing.” Excellent points. Like Nick Flynn, I write in part to figure things out, too. Writing helps me clarify my thoughts. I would be so muddled without writing. And I agree, writing leads self-discovery that might not occur, if one does not write about certain subjects and events. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.


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