Poetry: A Form of Therapy?

So you have these thoughts in your head, the weight of unexpressed emotions on your chest and you want to find a way to unburden yourself and vent. Some people talk to friends, some turn to their music whilst there are others who would turn to writing and the healing power of words.

It is common knowledge that poetry has been a method of expressing one’s feelings, ideas and thoughts since the age of the Vikings, or perhaps even before that. It is a pathway to understanding the troubles of the unconscious mind.

But did you know that poetry is often used in therapy sessions? In fact, to help deal with emotional and mental instability, patients were advised to start expressive writing. And if you aren’t keen on writing poetry, there is no need to worry.  The mere act of listening or reading poetry can help.

Poetry therapy can be divided into three parts; receptive stage, expressive stage and the symbolic stage.


Receptive stage

One common practice during the receptive stage would involve the therapist reading out a poem that is relatable to the client. The client could be asked to read the poem so that the therapist would be able take note of their reaction. By being able to understand the poem the client may empathize with the poet and in many ways feel less alone in the struggle that they are facing. Being able to read a piece of writing that voices out your troubles in a way that you could have never done is quite consoling. Rachel Mckibbens mentions how she felt after reading the poem “Wanting to die” by Anne Sexton.

Finally someone who was fluent in the wicked language that I spoke, someone who could mother me into wanting to stay on this planet; someone with an equally terrifying brain.

Expressive stage

The expressive stage has more to do with the writing of poetry which in my opinion is a more effective way to therapeutic poetry. You become the artist; your pen is your paintbrush and your paper is your canvas. You begin to write down your deep-seated thoughts and emotions and express what has been bouncing around in your mind. The therapist would at times read out a poem, ask the client to choose a line that has impacted them the most and have them start their poem with that line.

In group therapy the members might be given a word or phrase to react to, where they would eventually formulate a poem based on their contribution. You start writing down what has been on your heart; the words you never got to say because you were too afraid to and by the end of the day you remain satisfied with the fact that you were successfully able to voice out your unease, and that you created something beautiful.

The process of writing can be both cathartic and empowering, often freeing blocked emotions or buried memories and giving voice to one’s concerns and strengths.

Symbolic stage

The final stage, being the symbolic stage, would revolve more around the use of figurative language. The use of similes and metaphors enables the person convey difficult situations and experiences. It would be giving your sadness or anger a form. On the plus side, it’s a beautiful way of presenting one’s thoughts.


Spoken word poetry

Spoken word poetry also serves as a form of poetry therapy. It’s not just about reading the poem from a piece of paper or phone. This is the point where you would voice out the frustration and anger between the lines of your poem. It revolves around tone, word play and inflection. It’s not only about what you say but how you say it. Giving poets a platform to perform enables them to communicate with the crowd and be heard. It’s also a good way of developing their confidence.

Does it work?

Poetry therapy is an approach used with dealing with depression, identity issues and grief. It has been proven to decrease stress and anxiety in patients, but like any other method, it has its limitations. If the person has no interest in poetry then this method would be inapplicable. But I say give it a go. Try and put to paper what’s been bothering you of late. You never know what great things might come out of it.

By Josette Alexandra Laure