Poetry has probably been used as a method of counselling the mind and soul for thousands of years. Some historians have copies of poetry in their museums and vaults, that seem to pre-date ordinary books itself.
Charles Bukowski has described poetry as the “ultimate psychiatrist” and I am already a believer in this after having written poetry as a child, who suffered with many problems in my life. When my father died I was left devastated, and I used to write all the time, because I was not sufficiently up with religion or science, to be able to pray properly, or use the Internet or mental health system. Now I read books that help me to pray, or read a journal on Google Scholar, and visit the best mental health websites such as www.schizophrenia.com.
In the near future I will add a bookshelf on this site, so other sufferers may see what books I have used to help me along my way, such as a novel called ‘I Never Promised You a Rose Garden’ by Joanne Greenberg, about schizophrenia.
Poetry ‘theory’ states that humans have an innate drive to express ourselves, which helps us to think creatively, solve problems and maximise potential. There is even a website, dedicated to poetry therapy, www.poetrytherapy.org. And there are academic journals dedicated to this subject as well.
It is thought that social workers who help people, use the same techniques with their clients. These means of care include confidence through risk taking, developing new insights, problem solving, conflict resolution and reducing anxiety.
I add personally that poetry therapy may have lead to me achieving a well balanced state, as I emerge from paranoid schizophrenia; in that my delusions are very hard to let go of, and poetry eases my symptoms. But by using a ‘poetic voice’ I am able to clarify my thinking, and use my powers of thinking to analyse what insights and conclusions I may have missed.
Poetry therapy can be a way of having a dialogue with oneself, and helping other people to understand, what we as people are going through in either ‘metaphorical poetry’, or by using more direct methods of poetry. Collaborative poetry may also be helpful, with interpersonal relationships, which encourage empathy, group understanding, or even contribute to changing society.
In the case of negative experiences, poetry may act as a way of normalising those things, which hurt us the most in our lives. In the case of paranoid schizophrenia, this may be about things involving major issues such as bullying, racism, family problems, poor living standards, or homelessness. I believe that in my case my English has deteriorated, as I have become older due to my illness. I use the computer to check my grammar and spelling whereas at school and college I was more proficient. The use of poetry has allowed me to harness different ways of thinking about life, and learning new attitudes and emotions through elegance of human language.
Schizophrenia is a thought disorder and thus many schizophrenics may struggle with their ‘strange sentences’ and ‘weird use of words’, which I believe is beautiful. In my own words poetry therapy, may be a wonderful tool, in life to battle with the extremely difficult process of recovery from mental illness. More research may certainly be needed to identify which parts of the brain are being affected.
Part two will deal with more of the more scientific reasons why poetry therapy may help an individual with their illness. Thank you for reading.
Furman, R, Downey, E,P, Jackson, R,L, Bender, K, (2002) Poetry Therapy as a Tool for Strengths-Based Practice