I haven’t thought about it for many years, but my master's thesis dealt with the use of creative writing as an ancillary therapeutic technique for gifted and talented students. I have, from time to time after, used the term “therapy poems” when speaking about poems that serve a “healing” purpose for adults and younger poets alike. Such poems are helpful in, among other things,
1. Developing self-awareness and an understanding of self perception,
2. Establishing a “safe” venue for “venting,”
3. Defining and clarifying situations and feelings,
4. Helping to increase coping skills and to encourage positive change.
5. Working toward spiritual wholeness (creatively and cognitively).
This is the technical bit, though, and there’s much to be said for not over-thinking the process and simply sitting down and writing a poem that brings a sense of catharsis, healing, and peace (even if the central issue hasn’t been resolved).
From the time humankind learned how to write, poetry has been a way for people to express their deepest emotions, and poetry as a healing tool was known among ancient shamans who chanted poetry for the well-being of both tribes and individuals. And did you know that Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in the US (founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1751), included reading, writing, and publishing patient writings. I suspect that for each of us, there’s a personal poetry pharmacy from which we can draw for our therapy poems—a little word chemistry that we can mix up to help us define and clarify at least some of the experiences that trouble us.
Think about the poems you’ve written and identify any that fall into the category of “healing” poems.
Did writing those poems help you to feel a little a better about an experience or a relationship?
Did those poems bring you a sense of release?
It’s important to understand that writing a poem about something troubling isn’t necessarily going to solve the issue, but it might help you to feel better about it.
Now, think about something in your life right now that’s troubling, worrying, or otherwise an issue of one kind or another (a relationship issue, a work-related situation, a family conflict, health concerns, grief, loss).
Begin with a free write in which you tell about something that’s troubling you and how you feel about it. Wait an hour or two and then go back to what you wrote. Is there anything there that you might work into a poem? Give it a try!
1. Write in the active, not passive voice.
2. Write in the first person.
3. Don’t just tell about the issue; rather, try to show it through images and figures of speech.
4. Don’t give too many details—allow readers an opportunity to identify with your issue.
5. The best poetry offers opportunities for readers to see things in a new and different way. think about that as you write.
6. Don’t forget that concrete words are better than abstractions. For example, instead of simply stating that you feel sad (an abstract word), how might you convey that idea more concretely?
7. As you develop a strong emotional center, be careful to avoid sentimentality and overstated emotion.
Examples (a few of my own “therapy poems” by way of sharing):
“Survivor” (health issues)
“Like I Said” (general stress)
“Twilight and What There Is” (coming to terms)
“If It Hadn’t Been” (loss)
“As Simple As” and “It Should have Been” (relationships)