A Writers Group or Group Therapy?

by Ellen Bedrosian

One consistent piece of advice writers are given is to join a writers group. Why else would all of us belong to The Write Group? I’ve been lucky that the Groups I’ve attended have members who gave helpful feedback on my poetry and prose, and I hope they feel the same way about me.

But something really odd happened at a memoir writing workshop I recently attended at a local library. Rather than being interested in whether their stories worked, several attendees seemed to use the workshop as a group psychotherapy session. Two participants wrote about the deaths of family members. One woman lost a child to a heroin overdose and the other lost her father. As tragic as these stories were, the mother’s insistence that no one cares about the opiate epidemic or knows how to treat it just isn’t true. Her child died a few years ago so maybe it was more true then, but nowadays, one can’t get away from commercials, news stories and government taskforces dealing with the upsurge in addiction and overdoses. I never mentioned this to her, nor did the facilitator or any other members of the group.

The woman who lost her father insisted that no other daughter had as close a relationship with her dad as she did; that her father/daughter bond was unique. She wrote about his battle with cancer, and I assumed from the depth of her grief that he died relatively young. Turns out, he was in his mid-80s. Again, no one told her that living to one’s 80s constitutes a pretty good life.

Then there was the human rights activist who went to Syria, met with President Bashar al-Assad, and declared to her associates that he wasn’t such a bad guy. She was subsequently exiled from her human rights group. Not only was she bitter about that, she was furious at the people in another writing group she had met with the night before who criticized her story. This time, I decided to give some constructive feedback, so I asked her a question about some part of the story that confused me. “What are you? Stupid?” she shot back. I understood why the other writing group didn’t declare her the second coming of Gandhi. I let it slide, and gently suggested that she might be too close to the material. “Maybe you could wait a couple of years before continuing,” I said. She thought that was an idiotic suggestion, too.

So, like any good therapist, I just nodded my head and took notes on my pad.

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