Anything can be discussed in therapy. A session revolves around the participant and what they want to discuss that day. A discussion with a therapist can revolve around a person's interest in horror movies, a person's favorite color, or even cars. It can be about what a person was studying that day in school. A session that goes where a person wants or needs it to go, mental health professionals will usually say, is usually key. It's a bridge that allows a person to be more comfortable and trust more easily.
Depictions of mental health services are not often shaped that way, and that can contribute to a lot of insecurity or even mistrust when a person considers mental health help for the first time.
It's not unheard of that a person might seek help and happen to be a writer experiencing a block. Robert Boice describes a shift, specifically in psychoanalysis, from an id philosophy to an ego philosophy. Behavior, in this philosophy, can be both autonomous and influenced by sociocultural influences. Behavior also always has some kind of rationale, but can also be a result of unconscious motives.
Boice described sessions specifically with people in academia. His descriptions contain some language that's specific to psychoanalysis, but for the purposes of this post, all we need is the gist of how he conducted his sessions.
He observed that the specific individuals he had sessions with already knew some principles of psychoanalysis because of their studies. He gave them autonomy over the sessions and allowed some of his observations to move conversations forward rather than inhibiting their thoughts.
Usually, his sessions had more of a behavioral emphasis as opposed to an analytical one. It seemed, from reading about these sessions, that the participants were very self-aware and weren't averse to reflection. In these conversations, they delved into patterns of behavior that they'd formed throughout their lives, some of which shaped their attitudes about writing. From there, they were able to draw conclusions about the cause of their current block and some of their future blocks.
This seems like a common session that might occur between any writing consultant and a student wherein the consultant wouldn't have to have a psychoanalytic background. They might not trace a writer's behavior throughout their life, but their conversations can help writers to trace the origins of their obstacles and work through them.
The research that psychoanalysts were putting forth when this article was published didn't appear to see as much of a writing center as they are known today, but they were studying writer's block. However, it reads as though writer's block was often seen as a diagnosis as opposed to an experience that happens to those who express themselves. More simply, it would give pause to anyone who has ever thought before speaking.
Even more simply, "writer's block" isn't an illness.
Psychoanalysts appear to be treating writers and artists with more dignity. Many mental health professionals are treating those they work with as autonomous beings with their own personal goals, but we're still left with stigma against people in those fields that past "research" maintained and some still follow.
Some types of therapy described in this essay, automatic writing and free writing, are distinct because by their description, they are described as methods of writing that don't include the monitor. They could also be described as methods in which the monitor works differently.
Automatic writing, specifically, is something that's sometimes used in hypnotherapy and involves an awareness of writing without knowing what's being written. Writers who have used this technique often stated that they felt their mind being abstracted, or rather, they were receptive to more abstract ideas in writing that their internal monitor might have otherwise inhibited.
Regardless of how people might feel about hypnotherapy, this observation is important and shows that a writer usually only knows a fraction of their capabilities. It also shows that studies in psychoanalysis can improve a writer's understanding of how their minds work and how they can adjust their strategies to match.
The story gets better when people realize that they have full autonomy over their thoughts even if they have been influenced by different cultures and societies. The story gets better when people realize that creativity and inhibition of creativity aren't illnesses.
The story also gets better as we continue to understand more about mental health, but that understanding isn't anywhere near where it needs to be yet.
Thank you so much to everyone who allowed me to consult with them prior to writing this and after writing this, and thank you to everyone who has given me so many amazing conversations and feedback so far!
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In the coming weeks, look forward to more engagement from Steven Pinker and more collaborative work with my wonderful colleagues from The Urban Writers.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Boice, R. (1985). Psychotherapies for writing blocks. When a writer can’t write, 182-218.