As a result of my work at Ruskin last autumn I am currently developing a therapeutic creative writing programme that uses the interactive process of script writing to allow clients to analyse, understand and reimagine social interactions and thus improve their social outcomes.
The programme can be adapted for a wide range of client groups including sufferers of mental health problems[i], addicts, the homeless, repeat offenders and victims of crime or trauma.
If you are interested in discussing the project further please email me, Chris Jury, at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Flipping The Script course involves 6-10 weekly, taught sessions[ii] on script writing, running alongside weekly Script Development workshops, in which each writer’s work is discussed by the group leading to further development of the script to be discussed the following week, and so on, and so on, week on week.
Flipping The Script, will normally be delivered to groups of 5-15 writer/clients by a Script Writing Tutor who will deliver the writing classes and feedback, plus a Group Mentor[iii] who will attend the feedback workshops and oversee and guide the ‘therapeutic’ aspects of the programme.
All human beings create narratives to make sense of our life experiences and give them meaning. From our observation of others and guided by our individual and collective cultural frameworks we attribute motive and intention to others and create narratives in which although we are always the good guy, we can be victim or hero, success or failure, happy or sad; narratives in which other people are either friends or foes and can be conspiring with or against us. These stories are how we make sense of our social world and hugely influence how we react to other people.
Yet people suffering from mental health problems, addiction or trauma can in times of crisis create narratives that are psychologically useful in that moment but turn out to be unhelpful and occasionally tragically self-destructive over time.
Also people suffering from mental illness or addiction sometimes have little understanding of the effect of their condition on others and because of the psychological effects of their illness they often find the day-to-day social interactions necessary for modern life baffling, stressful and frightening. Some find it difficult to even leave home; others develop a defensive belligerence in social situations that exacerbates the problem, leading to increasing anxiety and isolation, which in turn increases mental health problems.
During a Flipping The Script course sufferers of these kinds of social alienation fictionalise significant incidents or recurring situations from their own lives and rewrite the scenarios as drama scripts.
Writing a script involves identifying who the hero (protagonist) and villain (antagonist) of the story are, working out the back story’[iv] and motivations of all the characters in the story, how their actions will be viewed by others, and the likely outcomes of their actions, based on what is likely and probable within the ‘world of the story’.[v] And ultimately through all this, working out the moral meaning of the story as indicated by the outcomes for the hero and villain.
For those suffering social alienation analysing their own experience in such a systematic yet creative and imaginative way, can bring about a profound understanding of the causes their social difficulties. Rewriting ‘the ending’ can also give an almost experiential understanding of alternative ways to respond to social situations.
‘Fictionalising’ a real-life, anecdotal scenario as ‘a story’ and reframing the participants as ‘characters’ provides a mechanism to allow writer/clients to gain some distance from the events and because discussions and/or judgements of behaviour during the script development process are restricted to the ‘characters’ within ‘the world of the story’, writer/clients are more able to abstract themselves from the situation and to judge their own actions and behaviours and those of others, more dispassionately.
[i] Mental health problems’ refers here to a broad range of conditions that might include (but not be limited to) depression, anxiety, stress, OCD, Aspergers, anger-management, PTSD, addiction, eating disorders, phobias and suicidal tendencies. The programme is not designed for sufferers of clinical conditions such as Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar or Psychosis but may be useful for such patients in certain circumstances and subject to medical advice.
[ii] Depending on client group and available resources.
[iii] A Mentor can be a mental health professional or a lay expert depending on the nature of the client group. i.e. if the programme is designed for those diagnosed mentally ill then a mental health professional would be required. If for a client group such as ‘the homeless’ or ‘alcoholics’ then a person who has experienced but overcome homelessness or alcoholism may be appropriate.
[iv] The ‘backstory’ of a fictional character is everything that happened to the character prior to the start of the current story and that the audience needs to know to understand the current story.
[v] Resolving a plot point in Eastenders by traveling at warp speed across space and time would be ridiculous; in Star Wars it is perfectly normal. Thus in any drama what is ‘likely and probable’ is determined by ‘the world of the story’.