poetry therapy

Poetry Therapy; The Secret To Your Healing Your Creativity

 “The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation. I don’t think I solve problems in my poetry; I think I uncover the problems.” Margaret Atwood

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are struggling with your own voice, your art, and your peace. In my last article, how does poetry affect my mental health, I have discussed the concept of poetry therapy and the Sylvia Plath effect and how it came to be. 

This article will further discuss the effect poetry therapy has on creativity and how it works.  You will find exercises and prompts you can apply to your writing process to boost your imagination and better your mindset.  

To experiment with Poetry Therapy, you don’t need to be a writer. The exercises included in this practice are used by many therapists to help their clients express their deep-seated emotions. If you are experiencing some mental or creative block, give poetry a chance and see what you can learn about yourself. 

Let’s get to it!

What exactly is Poetry Therapy again?

Most materials I have read describe this concept as a form of communicative arts therapy. Meaning, the practice uses various types of poems, narratives, and other spoken or written media to access our suppressed emotions and look deep within ourselves.  

Our subconscious is a place where most events we try to overpower are stored, and poetry is the best tool to visit our pasts and certain feelings associated with those events that might otherwise be difficult for us to express. 

With poetry, we explore the part of us we neglect. Note that, in writing poetry and visiting your past, you get a chance to see the same event from a different perspective or for what it is and validate your emotional experience accordingly.

How do therapists apply it in their sessions?

Poetry therapy isn’t exclusively developed for writers. One doesn’t even need to have experience with poetry. Therapists use it with people of all ages and backgrounds to help them gain a deeper insight into those they are treating.

The therapist may use poetry to help their client discern a specific feeling and express it. If the client has suffered abuse, the therapist may suggest reading a poem about anger. By enabling the client to narrow down their emotion to a specific feeling, they can better express it. 

Metaphors and rhythm are tools therapists also use to make their client’s writing experience easier. These devices help the writer express feelings without necessarily being too open. This is for when the client isn’t comfortable sharing their story yet but still has the need to voice their emotions. In return, it would also help the therapist identify emotions associated with the metaphors.

Therapists begin by sharing famous poems that are brief, expressive, and offer some comfort to the client.

Some poems commonly used in therapy are: 

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver 

“Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov 

“The Armful” by Robert Frost 

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth 

What are the different forms of Poetry Therapy?

The various steps involved in poetry therapy are: choosing a poem, reciting a poem, summarizing a poem, picturing a poem, and responding to a poem. But, the most popular and most frequently used is the model introduced by Nicholas Mazza. According to Mazza’s model, poetry therapy has three significant components: receptive/prescriptive, expressive/creative, and symbolic/ceremonial. 

The receptive/prescriptive component

In this form, the therapist introduces the client to some famous poems, such as the list mentioned above. The clients, in return, will read the poem and react in a way they relate to the subject. A personalized, feeling response is encouraged.

The expressive/creative component 

This component involves the use of creative writing. It could be poetry, letters, and journal entries to help the therapist get a deeper insight. In return, it allows clients to free blocked emotions or buried memories.

The symbolic/ceremonial component

This is where metaphors and storytelling come in. It helps individuals subtly explain complex emotions.

How can you apply it to your work?

“Poetry therapy helps patients to become more spontaneous and creative… Poetry is one of man’s deepest expressions, and emotions are thereby released. A poem has been described as the shortest emotional distance between two points, the points representing the writer and reader.” – Jack J Leedy, MD, Poetry Therapy: The Use of Poetry Therapy in the Treatment of Emotional Disorders (New York: Lippincott; 1969)

Whether you are going through a tough time or suffering from a creative block, it’s always advised to look away and get a fresh perspective. If you’re an artist, engaging in an area outside of your discipline will help you expand your perspective. The same applies to others as well. Here is how you can benefit from poetry therapy without the presence of a therapist. The only rule is for you to be as honest with yourself as you can be.

When you prepare to write, first make a list of words that best relate to how you’re feeling. Words that interest you, that have an impact, that reveal something about you and your state of mind, problem, or hurt at the moment you’re writing.  As you write, pay attention to how you feel as you explore the words in your poetry. Pay attention to which word triggers emotion more and experiment with it further.

Below are two popular practices in poetry therapy that you can explore: The “I am” poem and “Blackout/ erasure poetry.”  

“I am” poetry

This technique requires a great deal of vulnerability. Segmented in three stanzas, it will help you assess your thoughts, fears, dreams, perspective, and actions.  To write an I am poem, you need to be ready to talk about yourself on a subtle yet more profound level. Below is a sample you can try out. Remember to remain honest with yourself.

“When a poem doesn’t work, the first question to ask yourself is, ‘Am I telling the truth?'” – Wendy Cope


I AM (1st Stanza)

I am ________________________________________

I wonder _____________________________________

I hear ________________________________________

I see _________________________________________

I want ________________________________________

I am _________________________________________


(2nd Stanza)

I pretend ______________________________________

I feel _________________________________________

I touch ________________________________________

I worry ________________________________________

I cry __________________________________________

I am __________________________________________


(3rd Stanza)

I understand _________________________________

I say _______________________________________

I dream _____________________________________

I try ________________________________________

 I hope ______________________________________

I am ________________________________________

Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry, also known as erasure poetry, is a unique form of poetry both in its structure and creating process. You can take any writing from a book, a magazine, or even poems and blackout words and phrases to form a new piece with the leftovers. The attempt you make to create a new poem out of existing words will enhance your creativity as you are trying to think differently.

John Carroll, the founder of @MakeBlackoutPoetry, discovered a book called Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon, a Texas-based writer who created poetry by blacking out words in discarded newspapers with a marker. Carroll then started creating blackout poems during a dark chapter of his life.

“Carroll wasn’t just blacking out words with blackout poetry; he was blacking out his depression.” Atlanta

The  @MakeBlackoutPoetry became a popular movement on Instagram where people share their blackout poetry amongst each other.

If you find yourself in a state of mental exhaustion with zero energy to create anything, grab the next magazine you find and start blacking out words and phrases, or as Atlanta puts it, blackout your exhaustion, stress, block, or whatever is occupying your mind. You will find the whole process not only therapeutic but also productive; one way or another, you get to create.

In conclusion, experimenting with poetry means experimenting with your inner self. It is the key to access the part of your thoughts and emotions hidden from you in the depth of your fear, grief, doubt, trauma, and anger, to list the few. 

“Poetry empowers the simplest of lives to confront the most extreme sorrows with courage and motivates the mightiest of offices to humbly heed lessons in compassion.”

― Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

One last thing: We have also put together a few poetry exercises to skyrocket your creative writing here.

About The Author

Kalkidan Getnet is a poet and an aspiring concept/Minimal artist. She runs a poetry blog titled “Everted” with the theme “Poetic Disruption through Bold and Uncensored Self-expression”. Her poems explore various emotional states which fall mainly in grief, depression, and solitude, collected from her own experience and mere observations.

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