Poetry Therapy

What is Poetry Therapy?

Poetry therapy, also known as bibliotherapy, narrative therapy and journal therapy, was originally developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Dr. Leedy and Eli Griefer. This psychotherapy approach focuses on growth and recovery. Poetry therapists help you accurately articulate and explore your intimate thoughts and feelings in an effort to change your mind frame and/or your negative behaviors. These therapists concentrate on verbal communication, symbolic images and personal narratives as a way to help you identify and resolve your issues.

Poetry therapy consists of three vital components: you, your therapist and some form of written word, preferably poems. The goal is to help you attain happiness and restoration through the use of poetry and/or other forms of written word.

During poetry therapy, your therapist reads various poems, verses and/or literary passages to you in an effort to draw out a passionate response from you. Your emotional state directly influences the poem, verse or literary passage used during that particular session. In addition, your poetry therapist decides what psychological tools, methods and interventions to use by analyzing your past experiences. Your task during therapy is to respond to the poems, verses and/or literary passage is an authentic emotional, verbal and physical way.

Once your therapist has chosen and read a poem to you, your response are discussed and analyzed from a social and cognitive perspective. You are encouraged to share your reaction to the words in a safe, secure and supportive environment. This help you explore hidden feelings that have been buried in your subconscious and help you recognize how these feelings have contributed to your past and present problems.

What Are The Goals of Poetry Therapy?

The goals of poetry therapy include:

  • To foster truth and empathy
  • To increase originality, creativity and self-confidence
  • To improve social and communication skills
  • To examine overwhelming emotions and relieve stress
  • To encourage change and strengthen coping skills

How Are Poetry Therapists Trained?

Poetry therapists receive intensive clinical and literary training. This type of intensive training is necessary for assessing whether or not the poems, verses and/or literary passages are eliciting an authentic response from you. Poetry therapists may alter their approach or combine various approaches in order to help you change your thought process and behaviors and improve the quality of your life.

Where is Poetry Therapy Practiced?

Poetry therapy is used in a variety of setting such as: schools, support groups, hospitals, senior centers, private practices and nursing homes. This type of therapy is not only used to treat psychological problems, it is also used to foster growth and development.

What Happens During Poetry Therapy Sessions?

During poetry therapy sessions, your therapist provides you with a safe, secure and supportive environment where you feel free enough to share your most intimate thoughts and feelings. The aim is to allow you to express yourself in a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment. Your therapist then utilizes his/her knowledge of literature, education/training and clinical skills to help you identify your issues and seek resolution for those issues. There are four stages associated with poetry therapy.

These stages include:

1. Identification: During this stage, you are taught how to identify key elements in the poem.

2. Exploration: During this phase, you discuss the poem in depth. You learn how to relate the key elements of the poem to your own life and problems.

3. Comparison: During this stage you compare and contrast your own experiences and issues to what you have learned from the poem. You examine the poem and then your thoughts, feelings and behaviors from an opposite perspective. The purpose is to help you gain a more accurate awareness so that you make better decisions in the future.

4. Application: During this stage you make a connection between yourself and the poem.You then apply your new knowledge to your problems. Your poetry therapist ends the session, with a promise to continue to work on the present issues or address new issues at the next session. He/she also vows to help you incorporate what you have learned into your daily life.

Where Can I Find Additional Information on Poetry Therapy?

The National Association for Poetry Therapy

Address: 777 E. Atlantic Ave., Ste. 243, Delray Beach, FL 33483

Telephone: 866-844-NAPT or 561-667-9479

Website: http://www.nccata.org/index.htm


Furman, R., & Collins, K. (2005). Guidelines for responding to clients spontaneously presenting their poetry in therapy. Families in Society, 86(4), 573-579.

Shapiro, J. (2008). Putting a broken doll back together again. Families, Systems & Health, 26(2), 232-233


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