MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES A Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes Approach

A Therapeutic Writing article written by Manu Rodríguez
All rights reserved


I was born in Sevilla in 1967, in a modest and traditional family. My mum was a primary school teacher and my dad a policeman. I was the first of four brothers and a sister. This might sound like a regular story but the peculiarity is that my father´s father, and my mother´s father, were brothers. According to my grandma (my maternal grandmother, who is still alive) they didn’t see anything wrong at all with the relationship or the later marriage of her daughter and the son of her brother in law. Then, my mum and dad got married very young and I was born about nine months later. Probably their first love… first son. When I was two years old I got really sick. The doctors said I was not going to last very long. I’m forty six and I guess those doctors are probably dead by now. Sometimes fate plays such unpredictable games. I’m starting this essay like this to say that I’ve had to learn how to live and accept my life with health problems, physical limitations and a word society has labelled for people like me: ‘disabled’. I can’t say it’s easy because I’ve got used to it. In fact, some moments in late childhood and adolescence were the most difficult times regarding my relationship with this word, other people and the world that surrounded me. But looking back over the years I also can say that I’ve lived my life like a ‘non-disabled’ person, learning how to deal with others and myself, regulating my feelings and emotions, tolerating many sorts of frustrations and, maybe more importantly, accepting myself with my disabilities and abilities, weaknesses and strengths.

And so, some years ago, observing what apparently society considered as non-disabled people that appeared to me, paradoxically, to have more disempowering emotional and behavioural problems than many so called disabled people, causing them not to have a satisfactory life, I started asking myself: ‘What is disability? Who is disabled and who is non-disabled? Who is more disabled, someone who is unable to function properly in life, in his job, with his family and/or friends, or someone who, for example, is deaf or blind? Are people like David Blunkett or Stephen Hawking disabled? In which way are they?

To me, disability is the non-ability to use one´s personal physical and physiological capacities and potentials to solve problems and to function well in his/her cultural environment. For instance, and regarding Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, this would be the lack of a certain type of intelligence in an individual.

In this brief essay I will try to bring the idea of how the concept of intelligence has evolved since Aristotle´s time, to today, and how creativity and problem solving theories may be applied to Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes so that clients can recognise their physical and psychological abilities and disabilities, weaknesses and strengths, to better know and understand their selves, to function in society and empower their lives.


‘Every society features its ideal human being`, says Howard Gardner at the beginning of his book ‘Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century’ (Gardner H. 1999, p1). In fact, it seems to me that it is not the individual who determines whether he or she is more or less intelligent, able or disabled, for certain kinds of activities, rather it is determined by society. Although there are many cultures in the world, more and more Western society is making global values, which in turn has a role in how a culture views abilities and disabilities. Within a particular society, I think individuals should explore and figure out their own unique capacities and potentials, as well as accept and work on their weaknesses, dealing with them so that the experience of doing so can be of productive use in the society in which they live. In this way, they may self-determine their own lives in the most healthy and rational way, as much for the good of their society as for themselves. I venture to say that an ‘intelligent’ person is the one who is able to do this in order to live an ‘intelligent life’. I definitely think that an intelligence that doesn’t help us to live a better life is worthless.

At this point, I think we should review some of the concepts of intelligence that scientists and psychologists have advanced, through history.

Aristotle, who is often regarded as the father of psychology, gave major importance to the way we perceive and understand the world through our senses. He described the psyche as a substance able to receive knowledge, and that this knowledge is obtained through the psyche’s capability of intelligence in which the five senses are necessary. He believed that mental activities were primarily biological, and that the psyche was the ‘form’ part of intellect. For him, the body and the psyche formed a unity.

Aristotle´s idea may sound naïve for some of us today, and this is not just because we now know much more about the different regions of the brain, their specialization and their flexibility to adapt to new conditions and circumstances. We don’t have just to bear in mind that the Ancient Greeks didn’t have RMI brain scan technology and all the scientific advancements we have today, but also the particular value that the human ‘body-mind balanced’ factor had in their society. Nevertheless, actual Western society inherits and still retains this idea, which relates to the productive value system upon which capitalism rests, and that creates situations of many kinds of abilities and disabilities for individuals. It is then again obvious to me that the society in which an individual lives produces certain kinds of impairments and disabilities, as well as abilities and strengths.

At the end of the nineteenth century the British naturalist Charles Darwin came up with the theory of Natural Selection, or Evolution, which has had an enormous influence in psychology and intelligence theories. In fact, analytical, functional and genetic movement in psychology have been strongly influenced by Darwin’s achievements. According to Darwin, the human intellectual faculties are variable ‘and we have every reason to believe that the variations tend to be inherited. Therefore, if they were formerly of high importance to primeval man and to his ape-like progenitors, they would have been perfected or advanced through natural selection.’ (Darwin, 1871, 1896, p128). And in his autobiography, talking about his brother Erasmus, he says ‘I do not think that I owe much to him intellectually-nor to my four sisters… I am inclined to agree with Francis Galton in believing that education and environment produce only a small effect on the mind of any one, and that most of our qualities are innate’ (Darwin, quoted in Barlow, 1958 p43).

Since Darwin was the first to formulate the idea of natural selection, the so called ‘survival of the finest’, perhaps it is to be expected that his thoughts on genetic inheritance may seem incomplete today. Now we know a lot more about the brain’s ability to change neural structure through experience (plasticity) and the important role that learning and education plays in the healthy functioning of the brain, it would be unlikely that Darwin would claim that education had “only a small effect” if he were alive today.

At the very beginning of the twentieth century, the French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon, who were specifically interested in children and education, developed what is considered the first intelligence test. They worked empirically, administering hundreds of test questions to children who were having learning difficulties at school, first measuring sensory-based items then verbal memory, verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, appreciation of logical sequences and the ability to solve some problems of daily living. We could say that the IQ test was born at that time, although it was the German psychologist Wilhelm Stern who gave the name and measure of the ‘intelligence quotient’. By the twenties the intelligence test was regularly used in educational practice in Western Europe and the United States.

But, what is wrong with the IQ test? It is useful for measuring the so called ‘general intelligence’; cognitive abilities such as memory, reasoning and verbal components, but it didn’t take into account the complex nature of the human intellect and its different components as well as how a person, within their own cultural background, deals with feelings, emotions and with others.

It was the Columbia University psychologist Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) who first realised the importance of what Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner later called ‘interpersonal intelligence’. Observing that an IQ test measured only ‘abstract intelligence’, he distinguished two more types of intellectual functioning. ‘Mechanical Intelligence’: the ability to visualize relationships among objects and understand how the physical world worked, and ‘Social Intelligence’: the ability to function successfully in interpersonal situations.

In 1983, Gardner published the book Frames of Mind and came up with the ‘Multiple Intelligence’ theory. ‘I was not simply summarizing the work of others in a relatively traditional manner. Instead, I was putting forth a rather bold new theory—namely, that intellect was distinctly pluralistic—and arguing that the singular word ‘intelligence’ and the term ‘IQ’ were fundamentally limited and misleading.’ He also defined intelligence as ‘a biopsychological potential to process information in certain kinds of ways, in order to solve problems or create products that are valued in one or more cultural settings. (…) it suggests that intelligences are not things that can be seen or counted. Instead, they are potentials –presumably, neural ones- that will or will not be activated, depending upon the values of a particular culture, the opportunities available in that culture, and the personal decisions made by individuals and/or their families, schoolteachers, and others.’ Intelligence Reframed (1999, p34).

Howard Gardner Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory states that there are several intelligences, independent to each other, and that each one has its own strengths and constraints. He also maintains the idea that ‘the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naïve’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains’. (Gardner 1993, xxiii)

Howard Gardner’s Intelligences (or factors of intelligence, we could say) are:

· Linguistic: is the sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages and the capacity to use languages to accomplish certain goals (speakers, writers, poets…)
· Logical-Mathematical: is the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations and investigate issues scientifically (mathematicians and scientists)
· Musical: entails skill in the performance, composition and appreciation of musical patterns (musicians, singers…)
· Spatial: the potential of recognizing and manipulating the patterns of wide space (navigators and pilots) as well as the patterns of more confined areas (sculptors, chess players, architects…)
· Bodily-Kinaesthetic: the capacity of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems or to fashion items (dancers, actors, athletes, craftpersons, surgeons, mechanics, craftsmen…)
· Interpersonal: a person’s capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people and, consequently, to work effectively with others (salespeople, teachers, religious leaders…)
These were the seven intelligences, or intelligence factors, which Gardner worked out at the beginning of the eighties and explained in his well known book Frames of Mind. At the end of the nineties, he ‘reframed’ his theory adding three more intelligences. They are:
· Naturalist: sensitivity, recognition and classification of the numerous species –the flora and fauna- of a person’s environment (biologists, geologists, farmers, gardeners…)
· Spiritual: ‘Any discussion of the spirit –whether cast as spiritual life, spiritual capacity, spiritual feeling, or a gift for religion, mysticism or the transcendent- is controversial within the sciences as well as through the academic world. Language, music, space, nature and even an understanding of other people, all seem comparatively straightforward. Many of us do not recognize the spirit as we recognize the mind and the body, and many of us do not grant the same ontological status to the transcendent or the spiritual as we do to , say, the mathematical or the musical.’ (Gardner H, 1999 p53)
· Existentialist: again in Garner’s own words is ‘the capacity to locate oneself with respect to the furthest reaches of the cosmos –the infinite and the infinitesimal- and the related capacity to locate oneself with respect to such existential features of the human condition as the significance of life, the meaning of death, the ultimate fate of the physical and the psychological worlds and such profound experiences as love of another person or total immersion in a work of art.´ (Gardner H. 1999 p60)

Psychometricians, those responsible for measuring intelligence in a traditional and empirical way, were the first ones who strongly criticized Gardner’s theory. They were looking for a reliable way to measure accurately these various intelligences. To this, Gardner argued that he had no way of knowing whether the intelligences were independent of one another and that they basically depend on biological, cultural, motivational and resources. At the same time, for him it would be expensive, wrong and definitely not flexible to develop tests which create a strait-jacket scenario, for example: ‘Johnny is musically smart but spatially dumb’. ‘For instance, how do you measure someone’s understanding of himself, or of other people, using a short answer instrument? What would be an appropriate short answer measure of an individual’s bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence?’ (Gardner H. 1999, p136)

Nevertheless, MI theory caught the immediate attention of educators who were suggesting many different approaches, and many of these techniques are still being explored today. The flexibility of the multiple intelligence theory helps educators in such a way that students themselves have the possibility to understand and appreciate their own strengths, as well as identifying and addressing their weaknesses, exploring and learning in multiple and creative ways.

So, taking Gardner’s MI theory in the perspective of Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, in a first approach I think it would be good for the practitioners and facilitator to start with a rough picture of personal intelligences, and realising about their own weaknesses and strengths, by suggesting that clients reflect by writing and answering some initial questions such as the ones I propose here:

How good and concerned do you think you are in:

· communicating ideas to others by writing and/or talking?
· analyzing problems and investigating issues scientifically?
· appreciating music?
· using your body (for acting, dancing, doing exercise… Or even with crafts and manipulating tools)?
· with maps, orientating yourself in new locations, remembering places…?
· understanding yourself, capabilities and disabilities, and regulating your feelings and emotions?
· understanding the intentions, motivations and desires of others?
· appreciating and sensing nature: flora, fauna and the environment?
· having any kind of spiritual/religious beliefs?
· thinking about the meaning of life and death, chance and fate, and another existential matters?
And then, maybe in the next session, ask them to reflect by answering these simple two questions:
· In which way do you think your skills, abilities and strengths help you to solve your problems so you are living a healthier and more satisfactory life?
· How do you think you can address your weaknesses to better adapt to the society you live and so to have a more empowering present and future?

Even answering all these questions in the most honest way, a person may live in denial, having a wrong and distorted image of him/herself and the world that surrounds him/her. Or he/she just simply want to avoid emotions and memories from the past in what psychology calls ‘Experiential Avoidance’. Then, maybe his intrapersonal intelligence is not well developed and the reflective writing exercises need to be tutored and guided in a less direct and, we can even say, more gentle way.


We can let our clients know that according to Gardner’s definition of intelligence, an intelligence is used when it serves to solve a problem or create a product valued in the society in which an individual lives. If not, then that intelligence would be worthless at that point.

Many of us may be able to answer in a realistic, honest and positive way to some of those questions I proposed above, and we might potentially have some of these intelligences, but I think we really should try to think and reflect not just in an intrapersonal way, but as much as possible from ‘an outside perspective’, in an interpersonal way. One of the writing exercises I propose for this in my book Manual de Escritura Curativa/Manual of Healing Writing: Escribir para sanar / Writing to Heal, is for the client to reflect on their situation by writing in the third person, and looking at their problem dispassionately, as though belonging to another person.

Other alternative questions we may ask would be something like:

· Which abilities do you think really help you to solve certain problems that affect you, and how do these abilities help you with these problems?
· Do you clearly and honestly know yourself, and your intelligences, to the extent that you can use these various skill levels appropriately to solve certain problems?
· Are you creatively flexible and open minded enough to abandon stereotypes and narrow thinking so that you can find at least one solution for the problem that affects you, that could also be productive for the society, environment or situation you live in?
To address answers for these questions, I think we should give our clients (or students) some background information looking back again in the history of psychology, briefly analyzing the important role that creativity plays for solving problems and for the concept of intelligence.
It was the American psychologist Paul Guilford who is considered as the first to introduce the main importance of the concept of creativity into psychology. Guilford described creativity as sensitivity to problems, as divergent thinking and as the ability to generate multiple ideas to solve problems. He as well as others proposed that intelligence is not a unitary concept as it was measured by the traditional IQ test, and he introduced a three-dimensional theoretical model: the so called Structure of the intellect.

According to him, the intellect may be represented by three aspects:

-operations: cognition, memory, divergent production, convergent production and evaluation.
-products: units, classes, relations, systems, transformations and implications.
–content: visual, auditory, symbolic, semantic and behavioural.
The final version of the model (1988) was resembled as a cube with  6x5x6 figure. By then Guilford had introduced some new operations, making the cube able to yield 180 possible unique abilities, which are correlated with each other.


But for Guilford the main ingredient of creativity, which is a fundamental characteristic of any creative person, and so is therefore essential for solving problems, was the concept of Divergent Thinking. This concept has four characteristics:

1. Fluency: the ability to produce a great number of ideas in order to find a solution for the problem.
2. Flexibility: the ability to simultaneously propose a variety of approaches to the problem.
3. Originality: the ability to produce new, original ideas.
4. Elaboration: the ability to systematize and organize the details of an idea and carry it out.

Having said that, from my personal experience and in my modest opinion as a researcher and facilitator, and taking Guilford´s theory, therapeutic writing techniques should propose:

· To recognise and understand the problem, writing about it from different perspectives and points of view, looking always for a fluency and flexibility of thinking. Stereotypical thinking tends to stops the generation of new ideas that might solve the problem.
· To get a personal vision of the problem, understanding and situating it under one´s own unique experience, in particular circumstances and environment.
· To originate one´s own personal (and perhaps original) solution/s for the problem, as well as looking always for self-motivation and self-determination.

Another problem that we as practitioners or facilitators may face is that clients may not initially have a very developed sense of what Gardner called ‘Linguistic intelligence’ in which case we should try to find other activities (oral and craft) to trigger, little by little, the ability to reflect through creative writing. Over time the client can react and communicate in a way that opens them up to further, and more in depth engagement with the experience of reflective writing.


The concept and value of abilities and disabilities don’t just depend on the potential strengths and weaknesses an individual has, but also on the values and priorities which society presents to this individual. How a person uses his potential strengths to address his weaknesses in a determined society is going to affect the wellbeing of the individual as much as the society itself. The sooner a person is able to discover his abilities and disabilities, recognizing and understanding them, beginning to use and address them as ‘intelligently’ as possible, the sooner he or she can have a healthier and more satisfactory life.

In my opinion, the development of creativity from childhood, so individuals are able to freely and openly generate ideas, alternatives or possibilities that might be useful in solving problems on their own behalf and also of the society in which they live, should be considered the most important role in learning and education.

In a CWTP perspective, the use of creative and expressive writing in its various forms gives the possibility to explore deepest thoughts and emotions, to express and organise ideas, to understand oneself and the world that surrounds us, and to see our weaknesses and strengths so that we can have a better quality of living.
‘Creativity is a process of learning; it can deeply affect self and world views because it is attained through experience, exploration and expression rather than instruction.’ (Bolton 2011, p17)


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