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I went to a workshop yesterday facilitated by Jane Turner Goldsmith at Adelaide University called ‘Write Yourself’.

Jane is a psychologist as well as a talented writer, who I first heard speak at Salisbury Writer’s Festival a few years ago. Having had a synopsis accepted by the Australian Psychological Society, Jane was keen to try out her workshop before rolling it out to a wider audience. I was one of six who volunteered and very happy I did.

Writing as therapy is a hot topic, with research by Pennebaker showing the therapeutic benefits associated with this particular form of self-expression, both mental and physical. In six hours, we completed 10 exercises, ranging from writing about something we were proud of and the significant object we were asked to bring along, through to eating chocolate mindfully and introducing narrative to a traumatic event. One of my favourites, and the most emotive for me, was writing a letter to our younger selves. When time was called, I couldn’t stop.

Parameters were given from the start. No one had to share what they’d written, only if they felt comfortable doing so. Some did, others chose not to. Jane was also interested in how we felt about completing each exercise – anxious, scared, enthused – to gauge how they’d be received. And this is the important bit.

As said, Jane is a registered psychologist with extensive experience in this area and so was very adept at managing the emotional consequences of such self-exploration. I’ve recently assisted a fellow writer in the UK, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, to publish an article in the latest issue of Mslexia about the safeguards in place when writing about mental health, and how alarmingly many running such workshops are not adequately equipped to deal with the fallout. Fortunately, I was able to provide examples of good practice here.

For me, the workshop was emotionally exhausting. I revisited traumas and even went places I’d never been. But then I didn’t expect anything less. Being a poet who draws on experience to produce work, this was safe ground. And completing the exercises has given me the foundations for five pieces I intend to develop further. So thanks again Jane for letting me be one of your guinea pigs. I’ve found new squeaks 😊

I recently found out about a project very close to my heart through Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed. To help promote Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK from 11-17 May, Sarah James will be using her blog to host With You In Mind. Sarah James

Sarah is an inspirational poet whose work has been widely published in a variety of journals, anthologies and newspapers, as well as in solo collections. The first, Into the Yell, was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2010 and won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards the following year.   Sarah’s second collection, Be[yond], was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2013, who have also published her latest book, The Magnetic Diaries, earlier this year.

Like countless others, Sarah has her own stories of mental health that she shares on her site and through her work, something I can relate to as I do the same in my own (try it, it can be very cathartic!).  So having been involved in the last couple of mindshare poetry projects to promote Australia’s Mental Health Week in October, I contacted Sarah to offer my support for her project and any help to promote it. I was then thrilled to be asked by Sarah to use my poetry film, Black dog, in an advance posting of her project.

So keep an eye on Sarah’s site over the coming week to read some fantastic poetry from the likes of Helen Ivory, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Abegail Morley and Catherine Smith, all of whom have generously donated some of their work to this very worthy cause.