Advances and New Directions

By Silvano Arieti; H. Keith H. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 28

POETRY THERAPY

Owen E. Heninger

POETRY may be used as a device to involve patients in the therapeutic process. It is the speech of interiority, the "language of being," both intense and compact, and gets at the true utterance in the therapeutic endeavor. Some therapists 28 maintain that all poetry is therapy, that it is one of the techniques man has developed to cope with inner turmoil. Poetry may serve as therapy either by the resolution of mental anguish or by providing a way for man to face his conflicts more honestly. It is a means to engage in meaningful personal communication, it is a link to a greater awareness of unspoken thoughts and a way of sharing deep feelings.


¶ Introduction

Throughout history poetry has been a means to express the emotional forces that act upon men and women. The poet, bard, story‐ teller, like a shaman or doctor, has always been accorded a respect that transcends political disputes and national boundaries. Poetry was the original language of religion, and verse was a means by which ancient races developed a national character. It was left to Aristotle (c. 330 B.C.) to formally delineate the influence that literature had on the psyche, specifically the purifying or purgative effect of tragedy. This process he called katharsis (catharsis). 14 Not only did poetry afford its readers (viewers) pleasure in the aesthetic realm, it also acted upon them in a restorative manner. One of the better documented instances of poetry's therapeutic properties comes from the experience of John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher and economist. Mill noted in his autobiography that reading Wordsworth's poetry had been instrumental in his recovery from a nervous breakdown. 53

While poetry in the form of narrative, plays, and poems has doubtlessly contributed to the well being of people for almost three thousand years, it was not until the twentieth century that men of science began to see in it a nascent discipline suited for therapeutic purposes. In 1908, Freud 22 expounded upon the possible relation between poetry and

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