Flipping The Script is a therapeutic creative writing programme that uses the interactive process of script writing to allow sufferers of mental health problems to analyse, understand and reimagine social interactions and thus improve their social outcomes.
A Flipping The Script course involves 10 weekly, taught sessions on script writing running alongside weekly Script Development workshops, in which each writer’s work is interrogated and discussed by the group leading to further development of the script to be discussed the following week, and so on, and so on, week on week.
Flipping The Script, will normally be delivered to 5-15 writer/clients by a Public Domain Script Editor who will deliver the script writing classes and script feedback, plus a mental health professional who will attend the feedback workshops and oversee and guide the ‘therapeutic’ aspects of the programme for each ‘writer/client’.
People suffering from mental health problems[i], often lack basic social skills, have a limited understanding of the effect of their condition on others, and are unable or unwilling to operate within societies normative codes of behaviour. Thus they often find the day-to-day social interactions necessary for modern life so difficult and stressful it is difficult for them to even leave home and/or they develop a defensive belligerence in social situations that exacerbates the problem. This in turn leads to anxiety and isolation, which in turn increases mental health problems.
During a Flipping The Script course sufferers of mental health problems fictionalise problematic incidents or recurring situations from their own lives and rewrite the scenarios as a drama script.
Writing a credible script involves identifying who the hero (protagonist) and villain (antagonist) of the story are, working out the back story’[ii] and motivations of all the characters in the story, how their actions will be viewed by others, and the likely outcomes of their actions, based on what is likely and probable within the ‘world of the story’.[iii] And ultimately through all this, working out the moral meaning of the story as indicated by the outcomes for the hero and villain.
‘Fictionalising’ a real-life, anecdotal scenario as ‘a story’ and reframing the participants as ‘characters’ provides a mechanism to allow writer/clients to gain some distance from the events and because discussions and/or judgements of behaviour during the script development process are restricted to the ‘characters’ within ‘the world of the story’, writer/clients are more able to abstract themselves from the situation and to judge their own actions and behaviours and those of others, more dispassionately.
[i] Mental health problems’ refers here to a broad range of conditions that might include (but not be limited to) depression, anxiety, stress, OCD, Aspergers, anger-management, PTSD, addiction, eating disorders, phobias and suicidal tendencies. The programme is not designed for sufferers of clinical conditions such as Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar or Psychosis but may be useful for such patients in certain circumstances and subject to medical advice.
[ii] The ‘backstory’ of a fictional character is everything that happened to the character prior to the start of the current story and that the audience needs to know to understand the current story.
[iii] Resolving a plot point in Eastenders by traveling at warp speed across space and time would be ridiculous; in Star Wars it is perfectly normal. Thus in any drama what is ‘likely and probable’ is determined by ‘the world of the story’.
Peter was badly bullied throughout his time at primary school but grew up to be a large, strong, man, who hated bullying and always felt a responsibility to ‘get involved’ if he saw someone being bullied. However, he had very little knowledge of or perspective on ‘bullying’ and his reactions to anything he perceived as bullying were so extreme that it amounted to an anger disorder that gave rise to serious and recurring life-problems that rendered him almost unemployable and led to a criminal record for violence and threatening behaviour.
Peter’s eleven-year-old son disclosed to Peter that a boy in his class was bullying him at school. Peter’s wife arranged a meeting with the Head Teacher of their son’s school to discuss the situation… But an outraged Peter was determined to take direct action immediately and found out who the bully was and where he lived.
Peter was working as a tree surgeon at the time and waited in his truck outside the ‘bully’s’ house, dressed in his tree surgery equipment with lots of knives and blades visible. When ‘the bully’ walked by alone Peter got out of the vehicle and proceeded to terrorise ‘the bully’, explaining that if ‘the bully’ ever so much as looked at his son again he would go to ‘the bully’s’ home and beat ‘the bully’s’ father to unconsciousness, then stamp on him till he urinated and that when his father started to recover he would go back and beat him again, and then again, and again. By the end of Peter’s tirade ‘the bully’ was crying and terrified. Subsequently ‘the bully’ stayed away from Peter’s son and was terrified every time he saw Peter. In this story as told by Peter, he, Peter, is the hero he is the moral crusader who prevented his son being bullied.
There is of course another way of telling the story where Peter, a large physically intimidating middle-aged man, overreacts and terrorises an 11 year old boy by threatening extreme violence against the boy’s father simply because the boy was involved in a playground spat. This was the version of the story that the police were more interested in.
If Peter were to write up this anecdote as a script as part of a Flipping The Script programme, he would be forced to analyse not just his own motives and actions but those of his son and ‘the bully’, and to consider the full implications of all of ‘the character’s’ actions and their ‘backstories’.
If Peter wished to remain the hero of his own story he would have to change the narrative – he must either make the bullying he received as a child so horrific it somehow justified his ‘crazy’ behaviour as an adult, or he has to tone down what he said to the ‘bully’ to make it morally acceptable, or make the ‘bully’ so evil that the threatening behaviour of the character ‘Pete’ towards the boy was morally acceptable. Yet all of these options are either untrue or do not morally justify the behaviour of the character of ‘Pete’. In fact to create any scenario in which the character of ‘Pete’ is the hero of this story Peter, as the writer, inevitably has to come to a different understanding of what happened and why and to reimagine a version of the story in which the character of ‘Pete’ behaves differently to the way Peter actually did.
And although Peter can do nothing retrospectively about his past behaviour the process of fictionalising the incident will inevitably force him to imagine a different way of approaching such situations that in the future may lead to positive changes in his behaviour.