Wednesday, 19 June 2013

An excerpt from the intro chapter: why do this study?

With the world posing challenges at an increasing pace and life spans becoming longer, adults keep coping as best they can with the need to learn new knowledge and skills. Socialisation and education that society provides during the formative years do not necessarily prepare a person enough to deal with the rapid changes encountered in later - and longer - stages of life. Many avenues exist and are also still being developed to pave ways for adult learners. Lisa Berkman (2000) coming from a sociological perspective has presented a clear model of ‘cascading social processes’ showing how social networks impact health. She based her model on ideas originally developed by Durkheim (social integration) and Bowlby (attachment and social networks), that resonate with the theoretical concepts underlying my study.  When considering where in society writing groups fit in as a possible intervention or activity, Berkman’s model places them at the level of micro psychosocial mechanisms.

David Gauntlett, starting out from the field of communications and creativity, likewise emphasises the importance of human networks in self-motivated learning (Gauntlett, 2011).
However until now writing as a social group activity appears not to have been considered among the possible pathways to salutary development, health and wellbeing. While not completely ignored, it is mainly to be found in the literature about therapeutic interventions for special patient groups (e.g. Bolton, 2008). Writing group facilitators seem to be so convinced of the effectiveness of their practice, that they have not, with rare exceptions (Bolton, 2008; Hunt and Sampson, 2006; Mazza, 1999) engaged in academic study of the field to demonstrate this . No studies have been conducted to my knowledge on the effectiveness of writing groups for adults not diagnosed with any ‘condition’ or disease , as a general path for personal development. My study intends to take the first steps on this road not yet taken.

I will argue  that structured writing in a group context enhances the ability to consider options, to be flexible and to adapt one’s coping skills to rapidly changing circumstances. This can be seen as an ‘evolutionary’ advantage in an individual’s life course. I use the term evolutionary, because individual benefits appear often to be transmitted to younger generations by means of personal stories. Enhancing flexibility is a form of personal development in the language of my study.

(...) My work with long-term structured writing groups has taught me that these groups create experiences that can impact salutary development in adults by strengthening their capabilities for coping with stress, by opening up more perspectives and becoming more aware of their connections with themselves and with a social network.

I designed the study to discover whether and how short-term writing groups achieve a similar beneficial outcome of engendering this kind of personal development in the participants, as perceived by them. My present thesis deals with the first question: whether such development can be shown as an outcome of participating in short term structured writing groups.

Berkman L.F., et al. 2000 "From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millenium". Social Science and Medicine 51: 843-857
Bolton G. 1999. The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing, writing myself. Jessica Kingsley, London and Philadelphia
Gauntlett D. 2011. Making is Connecting.Polity Press, Cambridge UK
Hunt C. & F. Sampson 1986. Writing, self & reflexivity. Palgrave Macmillan UK
Mazza N. 1999. Poetry Therapy, interface of the Arts and Psychology. CRC Press, Boca Raton, London, NY, Washington

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