Interactive poetry therapy harnesses the power of the poem and its potential to transform the human experience into emotionally laden words, prose and images. By reading poetry of all forms, clients become submerged in the symbolic essence of the poems and begin to realize their own inner reflections and the potential they have in real life. The healing process is facilitated even further when the client actively participates in the creation of his own poetry and the examination of the product he has manifested.
Here are three types of writing you can try:
Free write. Free writing or journaling is simply writing what’s on your mind. It’s letting it all hang out without censoring yourself.
Pen poetry. Make a list of images from your childhood. Pick the ones that have positive memories. Recall the sensations you experienced — what you saw, smelled, heard, felt and tasted. Absorb the image into your body — feel as if you are reliving the remembered image. Describe your experience quickly.
Write down the emotions associated with these images, such as “wonder about flight” or “love and sadness for the hurt of a creature.”
Write a poem using the details you’ve collected. Show the feeling in your poem instead of labelling it as happy or sad.
Write your poetry in a very small notebook, on the bus or train. Or write an email to yourself.
Compose a letter. Write a short letter to a loved one. Or to write to someone with whom you have an unresolved conflict with, without sending it. The goal is for you to gain a clearer understanding of your own thoughts and feelings about the person.
What makes writing healing is telling the truth.
We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well… We should write because writing is good for the soul… We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not. (Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life)
Because a poem has a border, a frame, or structure, as opposed to prose, the form itself is a safety net. Strong emotions will not run off the page. A poetry therapist might ask his/her clients to draw a box in the centre of the paper and write the words inside.
An important question students of poetry therapy ask is how to find the right poem to bring to a group or individual. The best poems to start with are those that are understandable, with clear language, and a strong theme, as well as emotions that reflect some hope. Another essential element is that the poem must resonate with the mood and/or situation of the group or individual.
After a poem is read, the therapist might then ask participants for lines in the poem that speak to them, or to which lines they are most drawn. This might be followed by questions for discussion of an emotional nature. Considering the Rumi poem, the therapist might suggest they discuss: What am I to experience in this life? What am I not inviting in? How can my place of work or home be a Guest House? How is the Guest House like your heart? Comments centre on what the poem emotionally means to the reader, not what the poem means intellectually. Through group discussion, time to write and read what was written in the group, both members and facilitator can learn to think differently, perhaps applying newly formed concepts to existing behaviours and attitudes.