ESGO 2022: Creative writing as a form of therapy

Dr Adak Pirmorady-Sehouli talks in an interview about creative writing as a form of therapy in gynaecological oncology and how it can help in treatment.

A conversation with Dr. Pirmorady-Sehouli about creative writing, holistic forms of therapy and the psyche

Translated from the original German version.

esanum: Dr. Pirmorady-Sehouli, you are presenting creative writing as an opportunity for patients with gynaecological oncological diseases at the ESGO Congress 2022. What do you want to achieve?

I am very happy that at this large congress, which brings together specialists and professional societies on the topic of women's health, the focus is also on the psyche. In our field, psychosomatics, it goes without saying that health and healing cannot exist without holistic integration of the psyche. But it seems that in today's very diagnostically oriented, numerical medicine, the psyche is neglected and left to the psychologists. We, on the other hand, connect body and mind with each other and know that we can only treat healthily and well if this integration takes place. That is why I am particularly pleased that we can present holistic treatment approaches from our association, the European Artists' Guild for Medicine, and Culture at the ESGO 2022.

esanum: What is your workshop specifically about?

The writing therapist Susanne Diehm will actively accompany the workshop. She uses writing to initiate self-reflective processes. Ms Diehm has been accompanying carcinoma patients in the gynaecology department of the Charité Hospital for a long time. Before that, there will be a short theoretical introduction on my part about the importance of creativity in healing processes.

esanum: What experience has been gained with this?

This is part of the work of our association: We want to systematise and publish the whole thing according to evidence-based medicine. There are currently some studies on creative therapy and library therapy. And there are already studies on the benefits of creative therapies - including writing, art therapy, music therapy. It shows that all these forms of therapy always offer a positive outcome, that patients benefit a lot.

esanum: How is the creative approach brought to the patients?

First of all, the patient needs to be willing to engage in self-reflection. This is often triggered by a crisis or pressure of suffering. A cancer diagnosis can be understood as such a crisis. In the crisis, an initial contact with a therapist is crucial, as is also the case in psycho-oncological care. In these initial contacts, it can be determined which creative therapy is right for the patient. At the women's clinic at Charité, art therapy is offered, but also creative writing. Other clinics often offer music therapy or body awareness techniques. So that patients can be led well into experiencing, which in turn can promote the healing processes.

esanum: What does creative therapy look like in practice?

Texts can be written with the writing therapist, but pictures can also be created or music interpreted. The basis is a certified training of the therapist. There is a framework, with a fixed time and a safe place, as well as clear rules for dealing with each other. This includes professional distance, compassion, the attention that is offered - and with this attitude the texts are looked at together with the patient. This provides support, which can then be internalised. This gives the patient the opportunity to mature. She has experiences that she has not had before. The technique, whether writing or painting, is of secondary importance.

esanum: What happens to the patient as a result?

The success is that unconscious parts based on neuronal pathways are reflected and understood - and questioned in a mindful way. In this way, patients can develop an understanding that the unconscious exists. And then one can use these forces. This is what is meant when people always say: Accept yourself as you are. It sounds so simple, but it's not. It really means reflecting very thoroughly and learning to understand yourself.

esanum: What has been the reception to such an approach?

Very good, about two thirds take up creative therapy. We also see creative therapy as the first option prior to starting a conversational therapy with the patients, or parallel to it. This is because it is then possible to verbalise the experience and make it tangible. In a large-scale study of long-term surviving women by the Survivorship Clinic, we have been able to obtain initial data hinting at the hypothesis that it is initially easier to take up creative therapy than, for example, deep psychological group therapy, because the inhibition threshold is lower. Our study is not yet completed, we will know more by the end of next year.

esanum: And how does the medical profession accept your approach?

Often still with hesitation. But the acceptance of including the psyche in the equation is increasing. There is a great helplessness with somatoform disorders, where physicians search and search and cannot find anything measurable. If the patient is suffering but the physician can't see anything, there is always a call for psychosomatics. As a result, physicians are gradually becoming more open to things like creative therapies. There are now many clinics like ours, the Virchow Klinikum Charité (also in Berlin, Germany), that work with this. But there could be more.