A journey toward healing with poetry therapy


Illustration by Meher Yeda

Experts talk about the use of poetry and mindful writing as a creative outlet toward emotional recovery.

Melina Chalkia, Reporter

For Medill junior Hannah Hall, the isolating nature of the pandemic took a heavy toll on her emotional well-being and hindered her identity exploration.

Hall said she declared a poetry minor after realizing the medium was a creative outlet to process the pandemic, especially after the death of a family member.

“I felt that everything was (moving) at a very fast pace and oftentimes I lost track of my own thoughts,” Hall said. “It is really important to slow down and process everything that has happened and create something beautiful from that.”

Psychotherapeutic intervention has found poetry can be used to help address mental health problems including depression, grief and anxiety, and is beneficial to an individual’s emotional prosperity.

Dr. Marianela Medrano, a licensed counselor in poetry therapy, said writing allows people to process their emotional struggles. By familiarizing themselves with the pain they feel, rather than eluding it, poetry opens up an avenue for therapeutic intervention.

“Poetry therapy is the intentional use of writing to bring about growth and healing, by awakening something in (people) and giving them language to name feelings they have not been able to put into words,” Medrano said. “By naming our pain we learn how to live with it.”

According to Medrano, poetry gives people a voice by reminding them they have a writer within themselves. By identifying their inner voice, individuals can also identify their needs and how they wish to achieve them. That, she said, is how the healing process begins.

Weinberg sophomore Tiana Agarwal, who took a poetry class last fall, said the medium helped her cope with the stress of the pandemic.

“I also gained therapeutic approaches through the work we did,” Agarwal said. “Reading and writing poetry has helped me see my inner emotions as a ubiquitous part of human nature and the beauty of the words brings me peace.”

Medrano said mindful writing is this process of using writing to externalize one’s consciousness and tie together the world.

According to Medrano, mindfulness allows people to get in touch with the body and the mind, facilitating creative writing.

“In poetry we allow for a pause to see how our experiences are resonating with our internal world and how the environment is also impacting what is happening inside of us,” Medrano said.

Dr. Nicholas Mazza, a clinical psychologist and registered poetry therapist, has developed a specific approach to awaken internal healing and emotional awareness — the RES Poetry Therapy Practice Model.

In this process, a therapist observes a client’s reactions to a poem that relates to what’s going on in their lives. The client is then asked to write about what they are feeling before the use of metaphors, symbols and rituals are introduced to help them express their emotions.

“This can serve as a springboard for the client to talk about him or herself, because sometimes it’s easier to talk about a poem than it is to reveal material about yourself,” Mazza said.

Studies using fMRI have shown that poetry can activate areas of the brain related to introspection, the evaluation of one’s own mental and emotional processes, which is crucial for developing mindfulness. The rhyme in poetry activates similar areas of the brain as listening to music which includes the brain’s reward system that is responsible for pleasure.

Mazza added that sharing one’s written work with others helps build relationships which can be especially important for people who feel alone.

Hall said she has implemented this approach in her own life by sharing her poetry with friends all around the country.

“It brought me closer to them; resonating with someone else’s poem and connecting this way can be a powerful and therapeutic thing that can help us with mental health,” Hall said.

Amid the isolation and fright of the pandemic, mindful writing can help us “embrace the wholeness of being human,” Medrano said. In her approach, Medrano uses pathways of self-awareness, understanding and the cultivation of kindness to achieve wholeness.

Owing to its therapeutic value and healing nature, Medrano invites the whole world to “rest in the comfort of words and the vastness of poetry.”

“Poetry is a portal to higher consciousness; it opens up doors both inside and outside our connection with others,” Medrano said.

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Twitter: @ChalkiaMelina

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