Poetry Therapy and Inner Dialoguing as Therapy

This is a short post on a topic I of course want to explore further.

I have always enjoyed poetry in different ways. During school years I liked to read Shakespearian sonnets and poetry in French as well as English poetry such as Wordsworth and Blake. I also liked writing poems as a high school student. They were pretty typical “dark” teenage poems. In college, I read Russian poetry in the original and got into the “Beat” poets and postmodern poetry. I wrote more poems back then and then stopped writing poetry for a long time, I’m not even sure if I stopped altogether until just recently.

Anyway, I have been doing “poetry therapy” as “art therapy” with a patient and enjoying it quite a lot. It has resulted in me writing more poetry for the first time in years and having fun doing it… It is fun to have a session with a poet and come upon “poems” from the material that arises in the session. There is a sudden invitation to “write a poem about that”. At first I listened to poems by my patient and encouraged poetry writing but did not write any. Then after a few months in April I just naturally started responding to this patient’s poetry with poems of my own and launched myself into writing poetry again. I’ve been writing poems with my patient in sessions ever since and then started sporadically writing my own poetry, which is certainly different from any kind of poetry I’ve ever written. I think when I was much younger I was more conscious of the words I used and the rythm and imagery, metaphor, symbolic language, etc.

The poems I’ve been writing have been very “plain” talk language types of poems, although I wrote one I really liked a while ago called “Invitation to Awaken” that seemed more “elevated” and “poetic”, whatever that means…

I don’t claim to be a poetry therapist, but it is fun to use poetry in the therapy session and have a kind of back and forth call and response that naturally flows from the session and the relationship between me and a patient.

Another thing I’m getting back into that is slightly related is suggesting dialogues for journaling with the object of working on self acceptance and recognizing ambivalence or conflict within the self but not fighting it. For example, if you say, “I want to write poetry but I am blocked and can’t get myself to do it. I fight and push myself but nothing comes…” the dialogue would involve having the Inner Poet talk to the Blocked Poet and have a conversation. Another example, “Part of me wants to have children and part of me is afraid of losing myself and feels selfish…” This invites the Inner Future Mom to have a conversation with the Not Mother self and see what arises.

This dialoguing is also good for people who complain about their impulsivity in any area and desire to control themselves. The “Impulsive” Self may have a lot to teach the “Control/Principal/Judge/Cop” self. If the impulsive out of control self is allowed to have a voice and be recognized, there may be a lot of great creative energy that could be harnessed from this part of oneself and focused into something positive. The Controller could be enlisted to help the Impulsive Self (now Creative Self) to work together and thus the person can recognize that s/he needs and can use both conflicting sides and integrate them so s/he is not feeling pulled from extremes of perfection and self control to total chaos and impulsive acting out…

This is an example of how to transform one’s own energy, the dark and the light and harness it and direct it towards healing and creative purposes as well as “radical self-acceptance”, ie. completely receiving all parts of oneself and embracing them all, not unlike Rumi’s Guest House poem which I have posted on this blog.

Here’s an edited version of a poem started on 6/13/13 and continued the other day and then changed just now, that is related to this issue people struggle with around perfection/control/judgment and chaos/freedom/letting go of control:


I was walking down the street the other day

and saw an index card on the sidewalk 

that said “Messy”.

That was for me of course!

I picked it up and carried it around in my

messy handbag.

Today I lost my messy card.

Then I found it again but I forgot where.

I glued it into my messy art journal.

Life is messy. The imagination is messy.

The word mess used to mean food.

We need to be fed by our messes

and enjoy them !


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