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Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing

Exploring the self in the learning process

By Celia Hunt

Routledge – 2013 – 216 pages

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    July 1st 2013
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    August 1st 2013


Arising from a research project conducted over two years, Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing examines the effects of fictional autobiography on adult learners’ sense of self. Starting from a teaching and learning perspective, Hunt draws together ideas from psychodynamic psychotherapy, literary and learning theory, and work in the cognitive and neurosciences of the self and consciousness, to argue that creative life writing undertaken in a supportive learning environment, alongside opportunities for critical reflection, has the power to transform the way people think and learn. It does this by opening them up to a more embodied self-experience, which increases their awareness of the source of their thinking in bodily feeling and enables them to develop a more reflexive approach to learning.

Hunt locates this work within recent developments in the influential field of transformative learning. She also identifies it as a form of therapeutic education arguing, contrary to those who say that this approach leads to a diminished sense of self, that it can help people to develop a stronger sense of agency, whether for writing or learning or relations with others. Topics covered include:

    • Creative writing as a tool for personal and professional development
    • The transformative benefits and challenges of creative writing as a therapeutic activity
    • The relationships between literary structures and the processes of thinking and feeling
    • The role of cognitive-emotional learning in adult education
    • Collaborative learning and the role of the group

This book will interest teachers in adult, further and higher education who wish to use creative life writing as a tool for learning, as well as health care professionals seeking art-based techniques for use in their practice. It will also prove useful to academics interested in the relationship between education and psychotherapy, and in the theory and practice of transformative learning. Additionally, it will appeal to writers seeking a deeper understanding of the creative process.


'Through student case studies and broader observations, Hunt provides a fascinating exposition, analysis and interpretation of creative writing as a developmental and therapeutic tool. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to develop a framework for understanding themselves and their practices in engaging others in transformative learning.' - Professor Mark Tennant, Studies in the Education of Adults

Professor Les Todres, Director of Centre for Qualitative Research, Bournemouth University – Clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, academic and qualitative researcher working in an interdisciplinary academic context within Health and Social Care.

Need for book and markets: Yes. The field of transformative learning is on the rise both here and in other countries such as the USA, Europe, Australia and South Africa. The uniqueness of this book is in its credibility: by drawing on the findings of many years of teaching a course in the topic, and through hearing about the experiences of her students, readers will be able to understand the relevance of the particular educational methodology that Hunt uses in real life situations. On the other hand, there are indications that the book has a strong theoretical foundation. At this level, I know her as a leader in the field of integrating psychodynamic thought with that of phenomenology. This integration in itself is an important contribution, especially in how Hunt demonstrates its implications in an applied context. The topic of transformative learning has become very relevant in adult education across many disciplines. For example, as someone in the health and social care field, I know that students are being increasingly asked to engage in units of learning in which they need to demonstrate how they have integrated their professional and personal lives. Hunt’s book would thus appeal to students in a wide range of social science and humanities disciplines who are required to document portfolios of learning that evidence their own personal learning journey and reflexive processes. The book will also appeal to qualitative researchers and educators for slightly different reasons: to qualitative researchers because of its exposition and demonstration of a well-grounded qualitative research approach; and to educators because it provides a particularly interesting and effective educational methodology (creative writing) that educators can use in planning learning activities. In this respect, there are indications that the reader is provided with some very practical and hands-on guidance about how to apply this methodology in learning situations. Her argument about the value of creative life writing as one important educational methodology is convincing: that it facilitates the integrative capacities of the self of the learner, and that this capacity enhances the ability to learn in meaningfully cognitive, emotional and embodied ways. Because of my own disciplinary background, I do not know about the creative writing field in general but I do know that the book will also be of great interest to educators and students in the counseling and psychotherapy fields.

Use by student market: From her proposal, I can see that Hunt is well informed about the competition within her field and that she is recognized as a leader within this broad, interdisciplinary field. I would expect this book to be used at multiple levels: by post-graduate students in the social sciences, humanities and health and social care arenas, where their dissertations often require a section on their personal journey and learning, and how their learning has made a difference to their personal/professional lives; by undergraduate students who are required to undertake a ‘portfolio unit’ in which they demonstrate the integration of their learning over the year; by academics who are interested in the integration of phenomenology and psychodynamic theory in an applied context; by qualitative researchers who are interested in the leading edge of autobiographical writing; by counselors and psychotherapists who are interested in the phenomenon of therapeutic transformation and learning; and by educators who are looking for novel ways of enlivening the learning experience. The book is thus very flexible and, depending on the way it is marketed, could be prescribed as both a main text or as recommended reading.

Competition: As Hunt insightfully indicates, there are a range of allied books in different disciplines, but in my experience, I do not know of any other books with quite this combination of foci.

Out of date? It would take a while as further books on this topic would need to refer to this one as a pioneer and so future generations would need to refer to this one as part of the history of the educational methodology.

Authority? The proposal and the sample book chapter demonstrates a very high quality of writing and readers will benefit from her style, which appeals to multiple levels of understanding: aesthetic, cognitive, emotional and applied. From her proposal, (and from writings that I have read by her) I can see that Hunt is well informed about the competition within her field and that she is a recognized as a leader within this broad field.

Appropriate level? Hunt writes very accessibly at multiple levels. This enables the beginner to follow and to be enthused, as well as enabling the more experienced educator, researcher or academic to be challenged.

Recommend? Yes

Jeannie Wright, Associate Professor, Schools of Arts, Development and Health Education, Massey University, New Zealand

1. In my view there is a need for this book in the fields suggested by the proposal i.e. principally within transformative learning and adult and postgraduate education. Another secondary, potential market would be within psychology and health, most specifically in the creative and therapeutic writing subject areas.

The main buyers would be students, researchers and teachers based in universities, undergraduate perhaps, but more likely postgraduate teachers and learners.

In Australasia, there would be a market for this proposed book, but it would be impossible to quantify – a lot would depend on marketing strategies.

2. As a main text, it would be used in education disciplines, particularly adult education; it may be a useful text in the Masters in Education market, for example. There is a clear niche in the creative and life writing field of course. It would also be used as a recommended text in certain health professional training courses, such as occupational therapy, and in some counselling and psychotherapy courses.

3. In my view the book as a whole and particularly the case studies would not date quickly.

4. Celia Hunt is very well known and a recognised authority in the field. She has held a unique position in creative life writing in higher education for many years – her publication record speaks for itself.

5. The author’s coverage of the subject is based on previous published work, extensive practice-based research and a wide grasp of the relevant literature. Yes, it is appropriate to the level aimed at.

6. Yes [we should publish], I think it is an important addition to the current literature base. Its breadth and depth of theoretical foundation would make its appeal very wide. It will also have practical use both to those who already know enough about creative and life writing to see the links with transformative learning and to those who are new to the field.


Introduction 1: Creative Life Writing for Personal and Professional Development Part I – Stories of Transformative Change 2: Expanding the Psyche through the Learning Process 3: Finding a Stance as a Writer: Simon’s Story 4: Reconnecting with the Felt Body for Writing and Learning: Maria’s Story 5: Reconceptualising the Self in Time: Susanna’s Story Part II – Understanding Mechanisms of Change in Transformative Learning 6: Reflexivity and the Psyche as a Dynamic System 7: Vicissitudes of the Dynamic Psyche and their Consequences for Learning and Creativity Part III – Facilitating Transformative Change through Creative Life Writing 8: Developing Reflexivity through Creative Life Writing 9: Reflexivity and Group Process 10: Reflection and Reflexivity Part IV – Implications for Adult Learning 11: Challenges of Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing 12: Is Transformative Learning a Form of Therapeutic Education? Conclusion Appendix by Christine Cohen Park: The Cohen Park Exercises

Author Bio

Celia Hunt is Emeritus Reader in Continuing Education (Creative Writing) at the University of Sussex, where she founded the pioneering MA Creative Writing and Personal Development. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in 2004.

Name: Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing: Exploring the self in the learning process (Paperback)Routledge 
Description: By Celia Hunt. Arising from a research project conducted over two years, Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing examines the effects of fictional autobiography on adult learners’ sense of self. Starting from a teaching and learning perspective,...
Categories: Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, Higher Education, Research Methods in Education, Creative Arts & Expressive Therapies