Poetry Therapy

Poetry is more than a form of self-expression.

It can heal.

As a volunteer at a local hospital, I have written poems with children in the Children’s Emergency Department and have found that the children who contribute to creating these poems come away happier as a result.

One young lady, who had suffered a terrible injury, cried to me that she didn’t want to be alone.  Her mother was caught up at work and hadn’t made it to the hospital yet.  The young lady felt she had no where to turn.

As we wrote a poem together, she began to weep.

As a matter of course, I try to guide the children from a sense of loss and hurt to a place of healing.  I create a rough framework for the poems, having the children state:

  • Their problem/injury,
  • The outcome of their healing and recovery, and
  • Their dreams and aspirations.

By following this framework, I was able to process the aforementioned young lady’s loss and allow her to define what her healing and recovery would look like.

I’m not the first to use writing as therapy.  Professionals like Michael White and David Epston, use writing as a therapeutic tool.

White, who is co-director of the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, South Australia, and Epston, who is co-director of The Family Therapy Centre in Auckland, New Zealand, have written an excellent book on using writing as therapy.

Their book, “Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends,” describes, among other subjects, using story as a mechanism for healing and gaining knowledge and power.  One tool they describe, and that I have found useful in my work, is what they call “externalizing the problem.”

As the phrase subjects, “externalizing the problem” means describing the problem as an outside entity.  In my work, I let the patients define the problem and own it, perhaps a slight deviation from White’s model.  Still, once the patients define the problem, I let them process a positive outcome and their future aspirations.

White and Epson stress providing patients with a certificate or declaration that details the obstacle that the patient has now overcome.

In the spirit of their model, I print out a copy of the poems that the children and I write and give them a copy.  I also provide a copy for the hospital staff which gives them added insight into the inner lives of the children:  their fears and aspirations.

Providing all parties with a copy of these poems has served as an inspiration for all involved.

For more on White and Epson’s work, visit:  http://www.narrativeapproaches.com/

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