Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice
Edited by Charles M. Anderson and Marian M. MacCurdy
Essays by Anne Ruggles Gere, Tilly Warnock, Charles Anderson, Karen Holt, Patty McGady, T. R. Johnson, Michelle Payne, Marian MacCurdy, Alice Brand, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, Guy Allen, Jeffrey Berman, Jonathan Schiff, Jerome Bump, Regina Paxton Foehr, Laura Julier, Emily Nye, Sandra Florence.
We expect poets to craft art from suffering, but do we allow ourselves or our students to go this route? In this new book Charles Anderson and Marian MacCurdy compile 15 essays written by and for writing teachers and others who have experienced or would like to encourage writing and healing in a variety of settings, classrooms, substance-abuse treatment centers, AIDS support groups, and elsewhere throughout our communities.The essays explore particular writing practices and present theories that support writing as a way to approach and understand difficult situations, such as grief, death, and illness.
The editors recognize and address the conflicts inherent in promoting expressive writing and argue convincingly for the inclusion of personal and political concerns in the writing classroom or other settings. Writing and Healing provides a unique occasion for teachers, scholars, and other professionals to begin an open, serious conversation about the healing power of writing.
The first section "Finding Our Way In" offers examples of how teachers practice writing as healing. Anne Ruggles Gere investigates the importance of owning a strong voice, and Tilly Warnock writes about "Language and Literature as 'Equipment for Living': Revision as a LifeSkill."
Section Two "Traditions and Extensions" looks at how the ideas about, and approaches to, therapeutic writing have evolved over time. Michelle Payne historicizes sexual abuse narratives, and Alice Brand considers "Healing and the Brain."
The third section "Writing and Healing in the Classroom" tackles topics including expressive writing, journal writing, and writing about suicide.
The essays in the final section "Writing and Healing in the World" look outside the classroom to such examples of public text as the names on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., the individual squares of the NAMES AIDS quilt project, and the Clothesline Project that decries violence against women.
In the spirit of Letters for the Living: Teaching Writing in a Violent Age (NCTE 1998), Writing and Healing shows how the act of writing can impart hope to difficult situations. Both are volumes in NCTEís Refiguring English Studies series, which provides a forum for scholarship on English Studies as a discipline, a profession, and a vocation. The series publishes historical work that considers: the ways in which English Studies has constructed itself and its objects of study; investigations of the relationships among its constituent parts as conceived in both disciplinary and institutional terms; and examinations of the role the discipline has played or should play in the larger society and public policy.
Describing in the preface her own struggle to cope with her husbandís death, MacCurdy explains: "The history of our profession and the positions of those among us with the greatest power and prestige have, in fact, encouraged us in our writing, in our speaking, and in our teaching to cut our students and ourselves off from the healing resources of poets, peonies, weeds, and grief. The purpose of this book is to recover that loss."
Charles M. Anderson is professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He teaches courses in rhetorical theory and expository and technical writing. He also teaches medical ethics and literature and medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He has published articles in Literature and Medicine, chapters in anthologies on writing and rhetoric, and the book Richard Selzer and the Rhetoric of Surgery. He is currently working on Journey Time, a collection of essays.
Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy is a writer, teacher,and singer. Currently, she ís associate professor and chair of the writing program at Ithaca College, where she teaches both creative and expository writing. Her essays and poetry have appeared in such journals as Raft, Ararat, and the Journal of Poetry Therapy. Her article "The Four Women of the Apocalypse: Polarized Feminine Images in Magazine Advertisements" is included in the anthology Utopia and Gender in Advertising: A Critical Reader. "From Image to Narrative: The Politics of the Personal," her essay that sparked her exploration of the relationship between writing and healing, was published in the Spring 1995 issue of the Journal of Teaching Writing.
Available from NCTE Press Orders@NCTE.org
Teaching Emotional Literacy
On September 3, 1985, at 4 AM my wife and I were awakened by the door bell and the phone ringing at the same time. On the phone was a policeman telling us that my wife’s car had crashed into a guard rail and was abandoned. At the door bell was an ambulance driver looking for our fifteen-year-old daughter and her friend who had hitchhiked home and then called EMS. All this came to us as a complete surprise and shock to us; we thought our daughter had been sleeping in her room all evening! The next day we had to admit that she had a problem with drinking and drugs.
The outpatient treatment center insisted that each client’s family be involved in the therapy. I soon became very conscious of alcohol and drug abuse in our society, especially among teenagers and young adults. As one whose job was to educate that population, I wondered what I could do in the classroom to help prevent the kind of substance abuse that devastated my family and many others.
I began to encourage class discussion of alcohol and drug abuse in literature. For example, when I taught nineteenth-century English poetry, I included not only Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” which glorifies opium use for some students, but also poems such as Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” (in which opium is associated with the death wish and alcohol with escape from life) and Tennyson’s “Lotos Eaters,” in which opium is subtly associated with dreams and death..
poetry is more popular in bibliotherapy,
eventually fiction seemed the
more obvious genre for such a discussion; certainly alcoholism and drug
addiction are represented much more extensively in the fiction rather than the
poetry of the Victorian era (McCormick; Bump “Innovative 356). However, college
students usually do not like to be reminded of the disadvantages of substance
abuse, for it is widespread in colleges. Also, In any class of thirty or
more students there are probably some who have already crossed the line from
abuse to addiction and their denial is so great that they strongly resist any
direct attack on their drug of choice. When we expanded the context to other
ways fictional characters deny their feelings, such as by vicariously living
other people’s lives rather than their own, there were drawbacks as well as
advantages. Those who had simply blamed substance abusers had a chance to look
at their own modes of denial and repression and perhaps even their own
codependence, and thus gained some insight into the nature of addiction.
However, some of those who had most resisted criticism of substance abuse
seemed to feel liberated because they felt less shame about their own chemical
dependency. Some rationalized that because everybody seems to deny feelings on
occasion, or because everybody seems to have been addicted to something at some
time, they were entitled to their own addiction. Of course, the basic arguments
against chemical dependency and other modes of denial of feelings still applied
to their drug of choice, but a purely cognitive approach, trying to
“educate” people about the dangers of substance abuse, worked no better for me
than it has in the public schools or in clinical practice.
Seeking a more effective approach to these problems, I remembered the first question asked of us in family treatment for our daughter’s alcoholism: “how do you feel?” We answered with the usual vague generalities -- “fine,” “OK” and so on -- but to our surprise we were told that would not do. Like our daughter’s, our feelings had been shut down, though by more socially approved means than substance abuse. For our sake as well as our daughter’s, for the first time in our lives we had to become fully conscious of what we were feeling and then had to put those feelings into words. We soon discovered that in this language, that of our own emotions, we were illiterate. We soon became aware that without true emotional literacy not merely psychotherapy but all kinds of intimate relationships were jeopardized.
I discovered that precisely because I was an educator I had more difficulty
than most people accessing my emotions. It seemed the more education I received
the deeper became my lobotomy, cutting the left side of my brain off from the
right, splitting reason from emotion, language from feeling, my head from my
heart. Nine years of college and fifteen years of ostensibly objective
“research” in an institution that the student newspaper once labeled “the
church of reason” had not only anesthetized me but endowed me with an amazing
ability to spin complex webs of words to defend myself from emotion. Somehow
I had to undo all that intellectual defensiveness just to get on a par
with the other parents in the quest for emotional literacy. That mission
was crucial because we were told we had to model what we wanted for our
that if we wanted them to feel and express their emotions instead of trying
to drown them in alcohol and drugs we had to become able to articulate
precisely what was happening in own emotional life.
Roots of the Movement for Emotional Literacy in Schools
So began the longest journey I have ever made, from my head to my heart. As I began to come out of my anesthesia and rebuild the connections between the two sides of my brain, I became part of a movement that began with teacher education experts in the 30's (although I did not know it at the time). They were “convinced that education and mental hygiene were one and the same thing, supported by humanistic psychologists who believed that “therapy could take place not only behind closed doors but ... in school and community settings as well” (Brand Therapy 31-2). In the 50’s, Jersild, who
anticipated the criticism that teachers 'playing amateur psychologist' in the classroom could be harmful. . . . asserted that teachers were in no way assuming the role of professionally trained psychologists nor taking on psychiatric functions.... 'whether they will it nor not, whether they know it or not, teachers are already practicing psychology in their dealings with children. All the teacher's relationships with his pupils are changed with psychological meaning' (1952, 125; Brand Therapy 34).
In the next decade Moustakas was but one of many who emphasized that “‘Intellectual accomplishments represent only one small aspect of human experience. To emphasize facts and information [exclusively is] to contribute excessively to alienation, desensitization, and personal fragmentation’” (Personal Growth, 1969; Therapy 35). Brand documents the growth of this movement into the 1970’s (Therapy 41-43).
A key tenet of this movement is emotional literacy, a requirement of personal growth, healthy relationships, and effective teaching so basic that it cannot be relegated to psychotherapy. Redl and Wattenberg pointed out in 1951 “'that the teacher can and must assume some share of responsibility for the emotional as well as the intellectual development of his students is today a truism'“ (Mental Health in Teaching , 1951/1959; Brand Therapy 36). Carl Rogers was particularly persuasive on the need for teachers’ emotional literacy: "in the school context, the first essential was that teachers reveal themselves in honest ways and exhibit the range of feelings that differentiate living persons from 'automatons'" (1961; Brand Therapy 33). Hence "At the joint frontier of psychology and education in the 1960's, a movement that assigned to the emotional factor in education a role as important as -- or perhaps, more important than -- traditional academics emerged with profound implications for teachers. The idea of affective education, otherwise called 'psychological' or 'confluent' education, mobilized teacher interest in the realm of emotion and feelings .... The Ford Foundation sponsored several efforts to renew education for the 'whole' person'“ (Brand Therapy 39-40).
In 1995, the best seller, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, publicized the flowering of the emotional literacy movement in the 90’s and demonstrated that it is even more crucial as we move into the twenty-first century. Goleman adopts the definition of emotional intelligence developed by the Yale psychologist, Peter Salovey:  knowing one's emotions,  managing emotions,  motivating oneself,  recognizing emotions in others,  handling relationships. Salovey subsumes in these categories Howard Gardner's earlier theory of multiple intelligences, including the interpersonal, intrapsychic, spatial, kinesthetic, and musical.
Goleman’s extensive documentation of studies of the difference between normal academic intelligence and emotional intelligence and the importance of the latter for mental health, education, social competence, business success, intimate relationships, and physical health brought this movement into the mainstream of American life.
He cites successful emotional intelligence programs developed to combat rising rates of aggression and depression in the schools, such as the Social Competence Program at Troup Middle School in Connecticut, the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program in the New York City public school system, the Child Development Project in Oakland, the PATHS curriculum in Seattle, and the Self Science class at the Nueva Learning Center in Hillsborough, California. Goleman concludes that “the next step is to take the lessons learned from such highly focused programs and generalize them as a preventive measure for the entire school population, taught by ordinary teachers” (263).
Goleman does not spell out what responsibilities colleges have in this movement, but the goals are obviously relevant to college courses: “an emerging strategy in emotional education is not to create a new class, but to blend lessons on feelings and relationships with other topics already taught. Emotional lessons can merge naturally into reading and writing,” for example, and most classes can include “basic study skills such as how to put aside distractions, motivate yourself to study, and manage your impulses so you can attend to learning” (271-2). Goleman in fact focuses on the usual subjects of English courses: “the emotional mind’s special symbolic modes: metaphor and simile, along with poetry, song, and fable, are all cast in the language of the heart. So too are dreams and myths, in which loose associations determine the flow of narrative, abiding by the logic of the emotional mind” (54).
Others in the 90’s introduced the movement to the college campus. In 1994, for example, in his pioneering Diaries to an English Professor, Jeffrey Berman concluded that though “few literary critics, apart from feminists, reader-response critics, and composition theorists, have recognized the affective components of knowledge ...effective teaching is ... affective teaching .... Classroom discussions of literature awaken intense emotions within teachers and students alike -- love, hate, passion, jealousy, fear -- and these emotions cannot be relegated to ‘guidance counseling’” (226). As we see in the chapter on his teaching in this anthology, “for many, the diaries turned out to be the most important part of the course, allowing them to explore feelings about which they had never previously written.”
Course Design: Evolution of an Effective Approach to a Difficult Subject
Expression and denial of feelings became one of the subjects of my courses in the 1980’s,especially in the context of family and gender interactions. In my honors freshman Composition and Reading in World Literature course (E603), for 1987-8, for example, I focused on developing “writing skills to communicate our emotions as well as our thoughts to others and to ourselves.” In the description for the 1990-1991 course I stated that
The primary goal of the course will be to identify and articulate our emotions, especially those which drive our habits, in our responses to family dynamics, including sex roles, as represented in literature. We will try to develop a sense of literary works as potential calisthenics of emotions which we can enjoy and profit from for the rest of our lives.... Students will keep journals of their emotional and other responses to the works we read and at times bring these to class to help initiate discussion.
Partly as a result of this change in my teaching, I was selected by the administration for a Teaching Fellowship and by students as a Mortor Board Preferred Professor.
I began to focus on literary works as storehouses of emotion that could serve as models of how to communicate emotions to self and others. To that end, I changed the texts in my Victorian novels course (Bump “Innovative” 357). To help students identify and articulate what they felt as they read the novels, I asked them to record their emotions in a journal divided with quotes on one side of the page and reactions on the other. Our first goal was to identify a range of feelings, but I asked for other responses to be recorded as well: self-esteem issues in the text and in themselves; personal associations, especially family memories; awareness of family dynamics in the text and of functional and dysfunctional interactions as defined by family systems theory (the primary approach in alcoholism treatment; see Bradshaw 1988; Bump "Family"); and the characters’ emotions and their ability to express them. The students coded their journals for each of the features, counted the number of entries in each category when a novel was completed, and charted their progress.
While the family systems theory entries called for cognitive responses, I gave the following journal instructions for emotional literacy :
I will be looking, first of all, for your awareness of and ability to articulate your emotional reactions to the book. This is not to be confused with your awareness of emotions in the characters in the book, and is not quite the same as speculation about how you would feel if you were one of the characters.... Use the following format: ‘I felt’ followed by an emotion, like those listed in the “Vocabulary of Feelings” which follows [in the Xeroxed anthology]. Focus on how you felt when you read the passage or feel now rereading it, not what you think about it. "I felt that ..." or "I felt like" can lead you away from feelings and into thoughts. Try to get into deep emotions, such as fear, sadness, and love, rather than merely intellectual surprise, confusion, amusement, curiosity, etc. Be as specific as possible. It is good to note, "I felt moved," or "I felt touched," but better to specify exactly ... what emotion was touched or moved within you. Try to give some sense of why" you have these reactions (some personal relevance) at least once in a while.
The students in one of my E603 courses suggested substituting words and characters while reading. For example, while reading Medea's speech to Jason, one student saw the possibility of working
out some of my own anger. Reading along, I substituted some of my own words so that I could say, `How dare you abandon me!' to my father, or `How dare you beat my mother and steal my childhood!' to my stepfather, or 'How dare you use me and treat me like an object!' to various boyfriends. Through Medea I was able to confront people I may never see again; she let me vent my anger through her. When I read Medea I felt anger that I have suppressed for years come up and make itself known; even if it is not dissolved, at least I am more aware of its presence and its impact on my life.
The student allowed me to include these instructions in my anthology to help other students.
As a result of my teaching along these lines, I was awarded another Teaching Fellowship; was asked by the campus Counseling Center to make presentations on literature as therapy in its outreach programs; and was invited by the campus Center for Teaching Effectiveness to speak on “Teaching and Psychotherapy” at their annual Conference for Experienced Faculty and on “Exploring Alternative Teaching Methods: Left Brain, Right Brain” at their New Faculty Teaching Orientation.
The course continued to evolve. When I wrote the description for my Victorian novel class for the summer of 1990 I set emotional literacy in the context of brain hemisphericity research and was more explicit about family systems theory:
Unless one is familiar with psychological, reader-centered literary theory and criticism, this course will probably be very different from any English course you have had in the past. For most students all or almost all of the forty or more courses taken in college focus on the
left brain rather than the right, on thought rather than emotion, the mind rather than the heart. This is one attempt to redress the imbalance.... We will focus on learning to feel, identify, and articulate our emotions ..... We will also explore the interface between Victorian fiction and family systems theory, which developed as a way to explain and assist families with individuals suffering from chemical dependence or psychosomatic illness such as anorexia nervosa, though today therapists know that many other compulsions contribute to dysfunction in families. Designed for students interested in self-exploration, this course may be especially valuable for students who have experience with or interest in counseling, psychotherapy, experiential learning, or twelve-step groups.... In addition, students may be given surveys and self-report psychological measures at the beginning and end of the course to measure shifts in expressiveness, individuation, relationship skills, etc....
To the Victorian novels I added Bradshaw’s The Family and a collection of xeroxes that included Group Participation Guidelines [2 pp.], a Vocabulary of Feelings [4 pp.], videotape Information about the Bradshaw and related series, Counseling Center Information, and selections from F. Walsh, Major Models of Family Therapy; the Myers-Briggs Scale Information from Please Understand Me; Jerry M. Lewis, Optimal Families; Competent But Pained Families; Anthony Wohl, The Victorian Family; Patricia Parker, "Charlotte and Branwell Bronte: a Family Systems Approach"; Maria McCormick, "First Representations of the Gamma Alcoholic in the English Novel"; Ghinger and Grant, "Alcohol and the Family in Literature"; Paula Cohen, "The Heroine as Anorectic: Scapegoating and Guilt in the Nineteenth-Century Domestic Novel"; Christy Moore, "Mate selection in Jane Eyre"; Michael E. Kerr, “Chronic Anxiety and Defining a Self”; Gloria Steinem, “Looking for a Family of Equals”; and my list of contemporary novels with similar themes.
It was primarily on the basis of this course that I received one of the most prestigious teaching awards on campus, the Holloway Award, the only major award chosen by students rather than administrators. More importantly, I knew from my own experiences that students were being affected. For example, at one point I had Dr. Cindy Carlson, a professional counselor and professor of family systems theory at the university, answer questions at a session of the Victorian novel course. After the class a student handed her a note revealing that she had tried to kill herself. As there was no name on it, Cindy passed the note on to me. At the time I was grading student journals and was able to match the handwriting. I contacted the campus counseling center and they kindly provided me with a packet of information on how to deal with such situations. Following their advice I put some of their information and a note from me in her journal. My heart dropped when she did not appear at the following class meeting. However, she did come to the next one and spent the whole time during class reading the material I had put in her journal. After class she came up to me and thanked me, saying that she had not been able to talk about this with anyone at the university. I took her immediately to the counseling center where she made an appointment.
I recalled my own daughters’ struggles with depression and suicide and wondered how many students had been sitting in my classes throughout the years with similar problems, and how many like that there were at that moment attending classes throughout the university. I felt like my eyes had been opened and that I had made a breakthrough in my teaching and in my capacity for being fully human. I recalled what Leo Buscaglia, a professor of education at U.S.C., had written:
In the winter of 1969, an intelligent, sensitive female student of mine committed suicide. She was from a seemingly fine upper middle class family. Her grades were excellent. She was popular and sought after.... I have never been able to forget her eyes; alert, alive, responsive, full of promise. I can even recall her papers and examinations which I always read with interest....I often wonder what I would read in her eyes or her papers if I could see them now.... I was not blaming myself for her death. I simply wondered what I might have done; if I could have, even momentarily, helped. (9-10).
Eventually I shifted the student journal more and more in the direction of autobiography. Although I did not know it at the time, again I was participating in a movement in teacher education: "Inspired to some extent by the ideas advanced by Rogers, psychologists Arthur Jersild and Clark Moustakas elevated the study of self above any subject matter or external skill that could be studied in school'“ (Brand, Therapy 34). I was also becoming part of an old tradition in the teaching of writing. I remembered that the best course I had ever taken in college, freshman English at Amherst College, was devoted solely to self-exploration -- there were no books at all. My sense of the value of that approach was confirmed twenty years later: when forty-eight nationally famous writing teachers were asked to contribute an example of the best student writing and an explanation of its excellence “at least thirty of the examples in the collection are personal experience essays -- twenty of them autobiographical narratives -- and several of the remaining eighteen include writing about the writer” (Coles; Faigley 120). In my courses, journals, brief writing exercises, and computer-assisted writing began to culminate in essay-length writing and finally in embryonic autobiographies. I also added to the xeroxed anthology selections from Writing the Natural Way; Using Right-Brain Techniques To Release Your Expressive Powers; “Support Urged for Gay Teens”; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Using the Right Brain in the Language Arts; Wild Mind; “Where Emotions Come From” and our counseling center pamphlets on perfectionism and depression.
also began to address the problem of the few uninterested and unprepared
students who showed up in my courses because they did not bother to read the
course description. As there was a much higher probability that students in the
honors program would chooses courses on the basis of their descriptions rather
than just the times they were offered, I added some caveats. For example, in
the description for 1992-1993 I stated: This
section of E603 focuses on autobiography and is designed especially for students
who have experienced trauma, addiction, or family dysfunction. The kind of
writing taught will be what is known as personal, exploratory, expressive, or
therapeutic writing. The chief approach will be reader-centered criticism as in
David Bleich's Readers and Feelings.... In addition to
literature, we will use two self-help books. Bradshaw's Homecoming:
Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child each semester and
his The Family
primarily during the second semester. A prospective student is advised to read
the caveat on p. 64 of Homecoming, and
see if he or she scores more than ten on his "quiz" on p. 29..... CAVEATS: This class is not for you if
you can not adhere to the attendance policy outlined above, if you are
unwilling to identify and articulate your emotions, or if you dislike self-help
books and/or exploring subpersonalities such as your "inner child," a
lot of literature about childhood written by women, or computers.”
An Administrator’s Critique
Not long thereafter, I encountered opposition to my course. I suppose I should not have been surprised. When, inspired by the suicide of his student, Prof. Buscaglia started to teach a noncredit course on love, he began receiving odd looks “from some colleagues. One professor, in discussing my plans over lunch in the ‘Faculty Center, called love -- and anyone who purported to teach it -- ‘irrelevant!’ Others asked mockingly and with a wild leer, if the class had a lab requirement and was I going to be the primary investigator” (11). I was not teaching or even facilitating a class in “love” -- just beginning to try to include both sides of the brain in my teaching -- but I too began to perceive that some males thought that all there was in their “right brains” was the equation love=sex. They seemed to be completely unaware of the Christian and Platonic meanings of the word and thus of the possibility that it could mean simply a very basic feeling of oneness and connection with other human beings.
I was dismayed and offended by the wording, I thought that these were
and that I had gone too far with all my caveats. I gave
up on trying to exclude students who cared nothing about the subject matter of
the course and I made other concessions and it seemed that we were
going to be able to come up with an amicable compromise, but apparently one
member of the committee resisted apparently. Eventually, neither the
course proposal nor my actual teaching record were the subject of the committee’s
final accusations. They focused on an article, “Innovative Bibliotherapy
Approaches to Substance Abuse Education," that I had published in The
Arts and Psychotherapy in which I explore how teachers and clinicians can
learn from each other ways to combat substance abuse. In treatment programs "I
noticed the emphases on learning to identify and articulate the feelings that
had been shut down by substance abuse, on awareness of family dynamics
(especially as explained by family systems theory), and on participation in
group psychotherapy and Twelve-Step groups” (357).
prove that the goal of my course is "to engage students in counseling and
psychotherapy,” the administrator cited the phrase "on principles more
like those of Twelve-Step groups" from the description of one version of
my course in the article. I was surprised that anyone would confuse Twelve-Step
peer support groups with counseling or psychotherapy.
I was depressed for
several months: I had received nothing but praise and
encouragement for teaching in this way for years and thus was totally unprepared for this unexpected blow.
First of all, I wrote in my reply, “I wish to make as clear as I possibly can that [psychotherapy] is NOT the goal of the course.... I would be pleased if students found aspects of my course healing or therapeutic, but I do not want to engage in any kind of clinical counseling or psychotherapy that presumes to give advice, tell students how to live their lives, etc. I do not feel qualified to do tell others how to behave and, for my own sake, I certainly don't want even to give the impression that I am taking on that kind of responsibility.”
we have seen, Before this course came under attack, in the freshman
composition course I was teaching at the time, to make sure students knew that
the course was not clinical counseling or psychotherapy I referred them to p.
64 of John Bradshaw’s Homecoming:
These exercises are not intended to replace any therapy or therapy group that you might be involved in. They are not intended to replace any 12 Step group that you belong to. In fact, they should enhance your therapy or 12 Step work. If you are an adult victim of sexual abuse or severe emotional battering, or if you have been diagnosed as mentally ill or have a history of mental illness in your family, professional help is essential for you. If, as you experience these exercises, you start to experience strange or overwhelming emotions, stop immediately. Obtain the help of a qualified counselor before you proceed. While this work can be extremely powerful and has been highly therapeutic for many people, it is not intended as a magical kind of 'how-to potion.' Another caution: if you are in an active addiction..... the work I am presenting here requires that you have at least one year of sobriety under your belt.
In my response to the administrator I added, “In fact I do not make that much use of Bradshaw's exercises, but, to see if my current students noticed this caveat, at the end of” the semester I administered a questionnaire that asked, among other things, ‘Do you recall reading the following passage in Bradshaw's book?’ and then the passage was presented. Sixteen out of seventeen students checked ‘Yes, I recall reading this passage and I took it seriously’ and one checked the answer, ‘Yes, I recall reading this passage, but I did not take it seriously.’”
I also supplied the Committee with a set of my course materials that included “Group Participation Guidelines” that “clarify the operating principles in my classroom,” principles quite different from counseling, including the following guidelines, among others:
1. Our aim is to work on ourselves, to give mutual support and to practice non-judgmental listening and sharing.
2. We recognize that each person's process is important, not our judgment of it. Being accepted where we are makes it easier to accept rather than judge others.
3. We share what works for us ... rather than giving advice. We let other people find their own answers.....
5. We respect each other as unique; we recognize that each knows himself better than anyone else. If we listen to the voice within, we will find our own best answer.
6. We are here to support each other's inner guidance and assist one another to focus on what is meaningful to each of us rather than to confront or preach.
7. The roles of student and teacher are interchangeable; they fluctuate from one to the other regardless of age or experience.
The next set of guidelines includes the instructions, "Speak with the first person 'I'. Instead of 'people feel' or 'you get to feeling...', etc. say: 'I think, I feel ...' such and such.”; "Don't Speak for Others. Such as ‘...most men think...’, ‘a man always feels...,’ ‘etc. Speak for yourself or ask the person -- or all men present -- what they are feeling or thinking."
Concerning Twelve-Step groups, I pointed out that they “are neither counseling nor psychotherapy. In fact I compare my classroom practices to the operation of such groups to demonstrate how they are different from rather than similar to counseling and psychotherapy.” The section of the article from which the quotation was taken reads: "A unique feature of this classroom was the way it facilitated operating the groups on principles more like those of Twelve-Step groups. For instance, one of the most striking features of Twelve-Step groups is the absence of hierarchy, of permanent leaders” (360). I had earlier indicated in the article how such techniques might "threaten both the usual patriarchal classroom structure, especially that of a teacher addicted to control, and the usual therapy group directed by a psychologist" for they result in "a much more student-centered approach than most teachers, administrators, or perhaps even students, can accept, and apparently a more client-centered approach than most clients and psychotherapists want” (358).
I could see how upsetting this could be, but I suspected that the basic problem was fear of emotion. In the administrator’s initial letter he complained that the phrases using the word "emotional " in my course proposal were not "sufficiently defined." I replied by citing the definition in the Arts and Psychotherapy article: my "primary goal became emotional literacy: helping students identify and articulate the feelings they felt as they read" (355). I also pointed out that “in the course materials I submitted to the Committee I included quite a few materials which explain what is meant by “emotion,” including “Educators Combat Emotional Illiteracy”; “Where Emotions Come From”; “Vocabulary of Feelings”; and selections from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Using the Right Brain in the Language Arts, and Writing the Natural Way. Finally, I asked the obvious question, “Are you afraid that students will become too ‘emotional’? That they will ‘break down’, blame the university, and sue the university?” I received no answer to this question.
Surprisingly, in his next letter the administrator stated that "the committee members have no problem with drawing upon literary theory to teach about the emotional responses to literature." The many contradictions between this and his other sentences disturbed me. The original course description that the Committee found so objectionable stated explicitly that that was indeed my approach: "The chief approach will be reader-centered criticism as in David Bleich 's Readers and Feelings.” I pointed out that Bleich's book was published by the National Council of Teachers of English and listed the table of contents, with entries such as "Thoughts and Feelings" (including "Guidelines for Obtaining Emotional Response"); "Feelings About Literature"; and "Using the Book: Pragmatic Suggestions and Elaborations." I then asked, “Which, if any, of these topics am I to be prohibited from exploring in the classroom? If the Committee is opposed to this text, will not the committee member[s] then have to start censoring the supporting works listed in the bibliographical guide at the end of the book as well? And will they not have to start with Aristotle? Bleich points out that [Aristotle] defined tragedy in terms of the emotional response to it: pity and fear." (110).
I wondered if the problem was “that I take Bleich's last section seriously, ‘pragmatic suggestions and elaboration’? Am I to be restricted merely to discussing theory in a vacuum, ignoring its pedagogical implications in our own classroom? Is the objection of the Committee to ‘the idea of studying the actual responses of actual readers’ as Bleich puts it (110-111)?” I asked, “would not then the committee's censorship have to begin with I. A. Richards' Practical Criticism (1929) and be extended to Norman Holland's Poems in Persons and Five Readers Reading and the many related works of literary theory and criticism published along those lines in the last sixty years or so?” Bleich's last paragraph begins “The reader is invited to carry the conclusions of response-criticism in whatever directions he finds most compelling. It is obvious that a great deal more needs to be understood about how people function when they confront manifestations of language.” I asked, “Has not the Committee has prohibited me from carrying the conclusions of response-criticism in the directions I find most compelling?”
Then I focused directly on the committee’s reaction to the phrase "corrective emotional experience" in my article. The original sentence was "Like Yalom, my goal was primarily 'the corrective emotional experience' (pp. 25-29), or 'catharsis' as it is called in the more psychoanalytic model of Schrodes and others." I wondered if the Committee was “disturbed by the ‘psychoanalytic’ or ‘psychotherapeutic’ overtone of the phrase ‘corrective emotional experience’? It does seem to have a Freudian sound to it. However, that is because ‘Freud adopted Aristotle's view of literature," as Bleich points out (110). It was Aristotle who ‘conceived literature as cathartic for the audience --literature as a stimulus for emotional purgation’” (110).
I went on to argue that “exploration of emotional and other forms of right-brain knowledge and the politics of the family are common in feminist” literary criticism and theory as well and I supplied six other kinds of books to the Committee: Alice Brand's Therapy in Writing and her The Psychology of Writing: The Affective Experience.; Harvey F. Clarizo's Contemporary Issues in Educational Psychology (which has a section on "Classroom Dynamics and Mental Health"); Gerald Weinstein's Toward Humanistic Education: A Curriculum of Affect (focused on the needs of ‘poor, minority-group children’); Clark Moustakas' The Authentic Teacher: Sensitivity and Awareness in the Classroom (including a discussion of “emotions in the classroom” and related issues); and Mental Hygiene in the Classroom by the NEA and the AMA's Joint Committee on Health Problems in Education.
Moving from theory back to practice, I then addressed the fear conveyed in the administrator’s sentence, “That other students would then have access to these journals or essays in which their fellow students are encouraged to explore psychological states also raised concerns." I stated that “I too am concerned to assure as much privacy as possible, and now allow students to mark essays, pages, or portions of pages as private, to be read only by the teacher, or by no one. Nor should any student's writing be made available to future students or any other readers without the writer's permission.”
Searching for what else might have prompted rejection of the course I also noticed the preceding sentence in the original letter of rejection: "Then too, the committee questioned the appropriateness of grading students on the basis of journals recording their 'emotional and other responses'." I replied, “I want to do everything possible to avoid putting students "in a potentially exploitive relationship, one where the teacher is both therapist and evaluator." My system of grading journals is described in the article in detail: the students are graded in terms of the quantity of the entries in the categories, not my subjective evaluation of how ‘therapeutic’ any of this might be for them. I believe that students should have the option of not writing about their emotions, if they wish. A grade should not be determined by whether or not someone is willing to be [self-disclosing]. Basically, students are graded on how much work they put into the course, not what personal changes, if any, result. This grading system is not ideal and I would welcome any constructive suggestions the Committee has to offer.”
What was the result of my letter? I received no reply, was removed from the list of teachers eligible to teach the Plan II Freshman English honors course (Composition and Reading World Literature), and assigned a large lecture course where my emotional literacy approach is less practical. I did continue to teach “Personal, Expressive Writing” and “Autobiography” in the Division of Rhetoric and Composition. When I did so I took some of the committee’s objections into account. For example, I rarely use the metaphor of the inner child and have dropped Bradshaw’s self-help books as required texts, substituting Denis Ledoux’s From Memories to Memoirs and Robert Atkinson’s The Gift of Stories. However, the committee's intervention has had its intended chilling effect. My courses in autobiography and personal, expressive writing have given way to courses on nature writing and computers where any discussion of feelings tends to be brief and superficial.
whatever the texts, Personal writing courses still obviously raise
many questions, such as what is the best format for student writing -- reading
journal, personal essay, family vignette, weekly diary, full-length
autobiography, or ...? How can such highly personal writing be "corrected" and
graded without seeming to correct and grade the person who wrote it? What preparation
should the teacher have? To what extent should the teacher make his or her own
autobiographical writing available? To what extent if any should students be
encouraged to write about dramatic, traumatic, or difficult personal experiences
and/or tell difficult truths or half-truths about themselves? If they do, how
should the teacher and other students respond?
I do not know how to
deal with the problem of grading students on their autobiographical writing. I
know I have to be sure they do not get the impression that they, rather than
their writing, is being graded. I remembered how personally I took the grades I
received in the best course I have ever taken, freshman English at Amherst
college, in which the students themselves were the texts
(there were no
books). To avoid what I saw as the pitfalls of that course I graded the
autobiographies not on their content but only on the basis of how much work was
put into them and whether or not they met certain basic formal requirements.
Some of these issues are addressed by professor Berman. Since 1976 he has
assigned personal diaries in his literature and psychoanalysis courses.
Emotional literacy is not his primary concern, but he has important and useful
answers for related questions. For example, he assigns weekly diaries, which
are not graded, in addition to his regular assignments. Grades depend solely on
about student confidentiality? Both of us allowed students the option of
marking any of their writing for our eyes only. With the permission of the
students, he read five of the diaries aloud to the class each week, allowing
no response from the class. With networked computers at my disposal, my
approach was quite different. Every third or fourth class, in groups of
four or five, students communicated to each other on the computers whatever
they wanted to share about their experiences. At the end of the class period
a transcript was generated of all the exchanges in all the groups and made
available to the whole class. Although the students knew this would be
the case, to their surprise they ended up sharing more than they would
have face-to-face (Bump “Radical”). In addition, they were required to
write two formal essays. They knew that the first drafts of each essay
would be made available to the class via an electronic mail program which
allowed one-on-one student response. Students were asked to avoid any kind
of criticism or judgment of the content of other students’ essays, making
suggestions for revision only to help the author communicate their feelings
as well as their thoughts more effectively. The final drafts of the essays
were read only by me.
Finally, At the end
of the semester students gathered these and any other related materials
together they wished in an embryonic autobiography, again read and evaluated
only by me. The course continues to evolve and I welcome suggestions for
In any case, I hope more college teachers will be the focus of the next article with a title like “Educators Combat Emotional Illiteracy” (Goleman, 1992). The lives of our students will benefit in more ways than we can know.
Atkinson, Robert. The Gift of Stories. New York: Greenwood, 1995.
Berman, Jeffrey. Diaries to an English Professor.: Pain and Growth in the Classroom. Amherst: Univ. Of Massachusetts Press, 1994.
Bleich, David. Readings and Feelings: An Introduction to Subjective Criticism. Urbana: NCTE, 1975.
Bradshaw, John. Bradshaw On: The Family, a Revolutionary Way of Self-Discovery. Pampano Beach: Health Communications, 1988.
-------- Homecoming.: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. New York: Bantam, 1990.
Brand, Alice. The Psychology of Writing: the Affective Experience. New York: Greenwood, 1989.
-------, Therapy in Writing.: A Psycho-Educational Experience. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1980.
Bump, Jerome. “Innovative Bibliotherapy Approaches to Substance Abuse.” Arts in Psychotherapy 17 (1990): 355-62.
------ “The Family Dynamics of the Reception of Art.” Style 31.2 (1997): 106-128.
------ "Radical Changes in Class Discussion Using Networked Computers." Computers and the Humanities 24.1 (1990): 49-65.
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Clarizo, Harvey F. Contemporary Issues in Educational Psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1970.
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Coles, William E., Jr. And James Vopat. What Makes Writing Good. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1985.
Betty. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Rev. Ed. Los Angeles:
Faigley, Lester. Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh P, 1992.
Ghinger, Carole and Marcus Grant. “Alcohol and the Family in Literature.” Alcohol and the Family. Ed. Jim Orford and Judith Harwin. London: Croom Helm, 1982. Pp. 25-53.
Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind.: Living the Writer’s Life New York: Bantam, 1990.
Goleman, Daniel. “Educators Combat Emotional Illiteracy.” New York Times Service. Austin American Statesman March 30, 1992.
Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995.
Goode, Erica E. U. S. News and World Report. June 24, 1991. Pp. 54-61.
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---------- Poems in Persons: An Introduction to the Psychoanalysis of Literature. New York: Norton, 1973.
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Lewis, Jerry M. and John G. Looney. The Long Struggle: Well-Functioning Working Class Black Families. New York: Brunner, 1983.
McCormick, Maria. “First Representations of the Gamma Alcoholic in the English Novel.” Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 30 (1969): 957-980
Moore, O. Christene. “Family Patterns in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.” Unpub. M.A. Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1990.
Moustakas, Clark. The Authentic Teacher: Sensitivity and Awareness in the Classroom. Cambridge, Ma.: H. A. Doyle, 1966.
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National Education Association and the American Medical Association, Joint Committee on Health Problems in Education, Mental Hygiene in the Classroom. Chicago: American Medical Association, 1955.
Parker, Patricia. “Charlotte and Branwell Bronte: a Family Systems Approach,” upub. seminar paper.
Redl, Fritz and William Wattenberg. Mental Hygiene in Teaching. 2nd Ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World , 1959.
Rico, Gabriele. Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques To Release Your Expressive Powers. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1983.
Richards, I. A. Practical Criticism: Ā Study of Literary Judgment. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956,.
Rogers, Carl. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Schrodes, C. Bibliotherapy: A Theoretical and Clinical-Experimental Study. Unpub. Doctoral Dissertation. U of California at Berkeley, 1949.
Sinatra, Richard, and Josephine Stahl-Gamble. Using the Right Brain in the Language Arts. Springfield, Illinois: Thomas, 1983.
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Yalom, I. D. The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy 3rd. Ed. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
Rising rates of aggression and depression in the schools led Daniel Goleman to compile the research summarized in his recent book Emotional Intelligence. He adopts the definition of emotional intelligence by the Yale psychologist, Peter Salovey:  knowing one's emotions,  managing emotions,  motivating oneself,  recognizing emotions in others,  handling relationships. Salovey subsumes in these categories Howard Gardner's earlier theory of multiple intelligences. including interpersonal, intrapsychic, spatial, kinesthetic, and musical, as well as Gardner's emphasis on motivating by students by getting them into the "flow" rather than by threat or reward. Examples of successful emotional intelligence programs cited by Goleman range from the Social Competence Program at Troup Middle School in Connecticut, the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program in the New York city public school system, to the Child Development Project in Oakland, the PATHS curriculum in Seattle, and the Self Science class at the Nueva Learning Center in Hillsborough, California.
For more information about Emotional Intelligence on the Internet check out links to
See also Emotional Literacy News, PO Box 620471, Woodside, CA 94062