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The value of a lit degree

I've taken a somewhat unconventional approach to becoming a healing professional. I started with a Bachelor's of Literature and ventured into further studies in the arts and political sciences afterwards. I'd like to make the argument that a background in literature is actually an essential building block to becoming an effective healing professional. Here's why:

  1. Understanding structure and content: The essence of literary study is understanding how meaning forms from the juxtaposition of structure and content in a literary text. A creative writer includes a cooking recipe as content yet structurally it's expressed as a biblical scripture for example. What are they trying to convey by this juxtaposition? Are they creating an ironic effect and thus trying to communicate something about the bible? What if a poignant, romantic poem was structured as an advertisement for botox in a flashy magazine? Perhaps the author is communicating that romance has become constrained by capitalism- for example. As a healing professional, I've had to work under multiple structural conditions- a community clinic with gorgeous evening lighting, a fast paced hospital, and even on a laptop that summarizes a bureaucratic milieu (large litigious hospital). Within these structures, I am responsible to bring big changes to the people who entrust me with their inner worlds. I might treat content such as kleptomania. How does the juxtaposition of kleptomania and gorgeous evening lighting go together? How do I work within the irony of an individual oppressed by systems within an oppressive system? How do I maximize the healing possibilities regardless of the setting? Understanding the principles of literary study permits a flexibility of thought in maximizing healing possibilities regardless of the setting.

  2. Playing with ambiguity: What I adored about literary studies is that the mind can enter a field of meaning that is absolutely endless. The reality is that the human condition is equally replete of endless meanings and mental gymnastic possibilities. There are limitations within literature studies which involve considering context however. In studying and interpreting meaning in Shakespeare, a good literary analysis involves considering the historical context. So, the endless meaning lies in the capacity of the analyst's mind to find a creative interplay between context and content. This is the reality of working with patients as well. The human emotional reality is ambiguous and subjective- and there is a level of endless meaning to this experience. Yet, humans have contexts- cultural, emotional, goal-limited- that must be considered in this journey of mental gymnastics. In other words, literature was a great training field for preparing for the realm of the human text.

  3. Poetry and transformation: Very little needs to be said here. The draw of intense literary studies for me was about the poetic moments where language and analysis drew my breath and there was an "aha, wow" moment. Of course, working with patients as a healing professional is very rewarding for the same reason. Perhaps my background finding moments of poetic insight has allowed me to be skilled at facilitating those in humans.

  4. Intertextuality: The frameworks and theories in the conceptualization and analysis of literature are incredibly amendable to clinical treatment and/or healing. There is a rainbow of paradigms of consideration and possibly due to their connection to creative writing, the paradigms are novel and playful at times. For example, the concept of intertexuality alludes to a consideration of how structurally diverse texts interact. When you fuse a haiku with a newspaper article, what are the implications in the interpretation of meaning? This is slightly different than juxtaposition, as considering how two texts interact may include juxtaposition, but perhaps the two texts are similar in certain ways and so the notion of juxtaposition may not need to apply. The reality is that in the human experience differing texts are continually interacting and their interaction must be considered. Cultures, symptoms, values, development, and so on continually play together in the human experience.

  5. Language and reality: Literature is focused on language, largely. The human mind's fusion of language and meaning is the core ingredient of conditioning. As a clinical practitioner, being attuned to the limitations of language, as they apply to mental conditioning, is very important to considering how to get patients unstuck.

I believe that my strong clinical outcomes are partially attributable to the background in literary study that I have. The rigour required in a comprehensive literary analysis has also lead me to understand that there are no easy answers in the vast field of interpretation and meaning. In other words, I hold a high bar for what it takes to work clinically and my mind stays open to creative possibilities. Studying literature is hard, and so is the study of humans- as it should be.

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