“Poetry therapy” is not a standalone form of therapy. However, therapists can incorporate it into other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Poetry as therapy encourages a person to write about their emotions. Therapists utilizing poetry may also share relevant poems or encourage their clients to read poetry at home.
Keep reading to learn more about poetry as therapy, including how it works, the conditions it may help with, and more.
Bibliotherapy refers to therapy that uses reading or writing as a part of therapy.
Poetry therapy is a subtype of bibliotherapy. In poetry therapy, the therapist incorporates poetry into the treatment to help a person better understand feelings — both their own and those of others.
Although reading and writing poetry may help a person better deal with and express their emotions, poetry on its own is not a standalone form of therapy. For this reason, therapists usually incorporate poetry therapy into other types of therapy.
For example, therapists might use poetry writing to help a person using cognitive behavioral techniques to better identify their emotions and automatic thoughts.
Alternatively, a therapist may incorporate poetry into an attachment-based framework in order to support a person in identifying the link between their relationships and their emotions.
Poetry as therapy comes in many different forms. Some types of therapy follow a specific formula, with each session devoted to a unique goal. Poetry as a form of therapy is not formulaic, however, so therapists usually incorporate it into other types of therapy.
Therapists can use it with people of all ages and backgrounds, and clients do not need to have any prior experience with poetry. For example, one 1987 article highlights the potential value of using poetry therapy to help children who have experienced abuse.
Some examples of how a therapist might use poetry include the following:
- The therapist may use poetry as a way to help their client reach their treatment goals. For example, they might encourage a child who has experienced abuse to read poems about anger as a way to better identify their own angry feelings.
- The client may use poetry to express emotions that are difficult to express in words alone. The metaphors and rhythm of poetry may make it easier for some people to share their feelings.
- Poetry may help a client communicate with someone else, such as a parent or child, about their emotions.
- The imagery and metaphors a client uses in poetry may offer a window into the emotional connections they have. For example, metaphors associated with abandonment may help the therapist identify or confirm attachment issues.
In therapy sessions involving poetry, clients may write poetry, read poetry, or share poetry with others. Depending on the goals of treatment, they may write or read poetry with the guidance and help of the therapist, or they may use it as a way of focusing on their treatment goals between sessions.
Poetry as therapy is more popular among therapists practicing certain therapeutic approaches. For example, it is very compatible with existential therapy.
Existential therapy is a highly philosophical approach that encourages clients to explore the human condition, their role in human existence, and how common human struggles affect them.
The benefits of poetry as therapy may include the following:
- It offers a creative outlet. For people who already enjoy poetry and artistic expression, it may be a welcome addition to traditional therapy.
- Poetry may be an easier way for some people to express themselves and their feelings. Some clients struggle with directly sharing their feelings, but the metaphors of poetry may make this process easier.
- Poetry may help people with complex neurological issues feel less alone. For example, people with schizophrenia can give voice to their experiences through poetry.
- Poetry can help educate clients about common emotions and communication issues. Reading other people’s poetry may help a person feel less alone and encourage them to open up.
- Poetry gives clients the chance to explore challenging existential issues. For example, therapists sometimes use poetry with clients who are dying, living in nursing homes, or facing other life changing experiences.
Poetry as a form of therapy is not for everyone. Some shortcomings may include the following:
- Some people might not like writing or reading poetry. For them, poetry therapy may feel frustrating or offer no additional value.
- Writing poetry may be emotionally difficult for some people, especially those who feel pressured to compose a “good” poem. When this happens, poetry may actually be a distraction from the therapy.
- Poetry is not always an accurate reflection of a person’s emotions. For example, a person might focus on form rather than substance, causing them to write a “good” poem without fully exploring their emotions.
Poetry as therapy is not an alternative to other forms of therapy, but rather a supplement. This means that a therapist can incorporate it into a wide range of therapeutic approaches.
Clients should work with their therapist to decide on the type of therapy that is right for them.
Most studies show that poetry therapy can be highly effective. For example, one 2008 study found that poetry as therapy could reduce secondary trauma symptoms in domestic violence counselors.
Researchers do not typically compare poetry as therapy with other forms of therapy, since it is a complement to other modalities, not a replacement. For this reason, exact figures and data as to its success rates are scarce.
That said, for some people, it could provide a good alternative to traditional forms of therapy. In particular, it could be a great outlet for the expression of certain pent-up or difficult-to-express emotions.
Poetry has helped people identify and share their emotions for centuries.
Within therapy, it may deepen a person’s ability to connect to their own emotions and the experiences of others.
People interested in trying poetry as therapy should choose a practitioner who uses poetry alongside another more evidence-based approach, such as CBT.