Monday, August 6, 2007

Therapy and writers? A good thing or bad?

First off, I'd really like to hear YOUR opinions about this, so please feel free to join in the conversation (don't be shy).

After revisiting an intriguing book, Tales from the Couch: Writers on Therapy (Jason Shinder) , I couldn't stop thinking about the various points made by the authors (most of whom, interestingly, found therapy helpful). Does therapy actually help or hinder writers? Does it change their often unique perspective for the worst or does it help them tap into hidden veins of creativity, lurking deep within?.

As someone who has taught writing courses as well as being an avid reader, book collector and bookseller, I've heard many different viewpoints about this. Do writers necessarily benefit from therapy or are they best going it alone, trying to wrestle their demons and open their hearts on paper?

Consider Ernest Hemingway, an author who received electroshock treatment while severely depressed and then stated that it destroyed his memory and "put him out of business." There is also Hunter Thompson, a guy who was extremely popular and a regular writer for Rolling Stone before getting to the point where he committed suicide by shooting himself. He may have been thinking of contacting a counselor as some reports say the word "counselor" was in his typewriter at the time of his death. Also, he was having physical problems and had always been honest about his support of suicide as a "way out" if things got too rough or he felt like he was slipping.

Considering how many writers have written about therapy or their bouts with various conditions like depression (William Styron's Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness is one example that comes to mind), it is surprising that there seems to be relatively little written about therapy in general. For those who want to explore this topic, a look at On the Couch: Great American Tales about Therapy (Erica Kates) is also a good read.

For a more personal experience, there are the novels which explore the therapeutic experience from one viewpoint. Although some might find it dated, especially in light of new research into schizophrenia, I found the novel, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (Joanne Greenberg) to be deeply moving and well-written. Trivia buffs might recall that it was even made into a movie starring Kathleen Quinlan .

Then there is the classic work by Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a book embraced by the counterculture as an attack against conformity. Long before the movie came out, I loved reading about McMurphy, a man put in a mental asylum, with unexpected consequences. The movie version has forever left the imprint of Jack Nicholson as my vision of McMurphy but I still love to reread this work every now and then. It is a classic, timeless and riveting.

So, take a moment to think about it. What tips or tricks have you found to tap into your creativity, to spark your writing? Do you keep a journal? Try to meditate or take walks to just think and consider alternate ways of approaching topics? Or have you found therapy to have extra benefits for your writing, even if that wasn't the reason you sought out a therapist?

P.S. If you want to check out the book titles noted above (some are hard to find, be forewarned, just use the Amazon search box. There is NO obligation to buy but you'll get to read a description of the books and, with luck, be able to search inside the book and read an excerpt)

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