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May 2017
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Narration represents one of the mind’s most natural forms of help because it helps to organise and reorganise memories and allows people to express emotions by making sense of them and transforming them from abstracts, unknown things or even terrorising feelings or unmentionable mental images. 
Poetry, which can be made up of sonnets, rhyme or, more freely, blank verse, or even the rhythms of inner emotions, the lyrics of songs or music recitals, is the sole’s most spontaneous and deepest way to express itself.
Poetry has been used since ancient times as the preferred way to express strong, personal and social emotions and to communicate unforgettable messages over time, and it has been studied and has led onto the development of specific methods which have transformed it into an instrument of help for the mind, as well as a real technique of help in daily situations or in the presence of discomfort and psycho-physical suffering.

Verses for the mind

Poetry certainly has a natural, liberating power, however, as is often the case in areas of art like dance, theatre, design and writing, it is easy to call something ‘therapy’ by underlining the benefits that such an activity can spontaneously produce, yet it cannot be defined as a ‘cure’ or ‘method of help’ without referring to a theory, operating methods and maybe even an initial and final assessment of the aspects which have positively been affected, thus guaranteeing the possibility of being able to control and reproduce the methods, which have been therapeutic, in the future.
This is why it is necessary to clarify what is meant by psycho poetry and poetry therapy, terms which are often misused and misunderstood, sometimes even by poets, who use them inappropriately to refer to the use of poetry to relieve tension in the sole (which is actually far from the purpose of poetry therapy), or by psychologists, who use these terms to define the use of writing or reading poetry as an instrument to carry out a traditional form of psychotherapy, without applying specific techniques developed by specialists from these fields. 

Psycho poetry and poetry therapy are actually creative and alternative methods to traditional methods of help for the mind, based on specific techniques which involve writing and reading poetry and which final objectives are awareness and supporting emotional and cognitive states (thoughts), which are important for the psychological growth and well-being of a person.

Psycho poetry involves psychological and behavioural objectives, which the patient wants to fulfil, and uses poetry, together with appropriate techniques, to obtain these psycho-social outcomes.
Usually there is an initial assessment of the problem which involves reading and writing poetry, or guided self-observation using certain instruments and methods, so a course can be created in which the best psycho poetry and psycho therapeutic techniques are used to recover and improve certain negative behaviour. At the end of the course, all the work completed and the result of the course are revised, in order to complete a concluding, self-evaluating, poetic exploration.
Conducting such programmes requires specific training which covers important aspects of applied psychology and communication, as well as specific techniques of psycho poetry and poetry therapy. The focus is not on the various forms of poetry nor technical aspects as these could limit self-expression.

Help techniques for the mind through poetry

The methods of application of poetry, as a way to help the mind, are not just simple forms of writing poetry freely, rather they are creative forms of writing poetry aimed at gradual objectives fulfilled through artistic and creative literary and dramatisation techniques developed thanks to a contribution mainly from the psychology of writing.
A course of psycho poetry usually starts following a motivational interview, during which the objectives are defined and different grids of self-evaluation of emotional states are made use of, as well as log books and, if one wishes to be more scientific, questionnaires and evaluation tests regarding the initial objectives, which can then be compared at the end of the course.
The main psycho poetic techniques are explained below and these can be used in individual or group courses of psycho poetry or poetry therapy, depending on the various needs and final objectives of the patients.

  • Primitive poetic writing and poetry-madness are two techniques which are useful in the initial and final stages of poetry therapy and which start from key emotional stimuli, made up of words or starting subjects for the former and a single stimulating word for the latter, which are used to reconstruct the starting point in a poetic way and lead onto narration of oneself and one's emotions at a particular moment in time.
  • The poetic dream is a way of writing poetry after having been in a state of guided relaxation (the aim being to physiologically activate one’s most creative parts, by coming away from rational filters of everyday life) and focusing on words and mental images. It can be used like abreaction techniques in order to free emotions related to difficult, negative, traumatic and non-elaborated situations, or to learn how to better get to know one’s internal world in situations where one’s behaviour appears limited by psychological aspects, which escape conscious control and awareness.
  • Symbolic poetry is a volitive technique which involves composing and rereading, which is very useful for overcoming a delusion, loss, change or gradually coming away from states of addiction to affection. It can also be used to determine what 'mends' controversial yet important bonds by creating which can bring together and remind the patient of emotions he/she felt towards a person or situation which he/she still has an irrational and/or painful tie to.
  • Positive poetry is a form of poetry which captures a positive outlook on life by developing the possibility of positive thought and feeding new emotions, helping the patient to overcome tendencies to concentrate on emotionally negative moments and amplifying them, as is the case with people suffering from depression.
  • Imaginative poetry is a technique involving reading poetry, written by the reader or by others, which takes on a role similar to that of positive poetry, that is, helping to develop a representation of oneself in a situation associated with positive emotions. It is very useful for addressing fears and anxiety-inducing situations. One often starts with a ‘negative, imaginative poem’ in order to develop and reread a ‘positive, imaginative poem’ in conditions that are more appropriate for absorbing emotions.
  • ‘Account’ poetry is a very useful form of training for alexithymic people, that is, people who are not particularly good at talking about the emotions they feel, therefore they tend to repeat ‘cold accounts’ of events, showing the unexpressed emotions in a physical form (somatisation) or as a ‘nameless pain’. For those who have bigger problems expressing their emotions, short compositions in the form of ‘emotional accounts’ can be written, starting with an emotional grid of stimulating adjectives, some of which must be chosen and then used in the poetic creation. Another method consists of stimulating creation through emotional reading recitals of poems which have been written by other people and which are about the problem that will be worked.
  • Eco poetry is a technique which has similar aims to the previous one, is used to support emotional awareness and consists of creating a poem whilst other poems or other literature on the same subject are being read. The main function is to help those who are not used to feeling and describing their emotions.
  • Biography poetry represents a form of biographic poetry which is very useful for the construction and reconstruction of one’s identity. It is a method of representation of one or more aspects of oneself that are narrated in verses using different methods, from the creation or reading of poetry, which one my consider representative of him/herself (self-perception), to writing or reading poems which others have dedicated to another person (hetero-perception). It is very useful for improving problems between parents and children and between partners, especially when there is a discrepancy between one’s ‘desired perception’ and one’s ‘received perception’.
  • Dialogue poetry is a dialogued form of poetry, a poetic conversation with a symbolic interlocutor which may involve two or more people (with real people or parts of oneself). Through this poetry, a patient can be helped to express something he/she is not able to express, or make room for a part of him/herself which does not have a voice and therefore has never been fully experienced (for example the masculine/feminine part of oneself).
  • Fantasy poetry is a poetic form of expression of one’s fantasy or fears, which can be personal or a general fear of mankind. It is a very useful poetic form for children for addressing secret and unapproved fears related to present social or family events.

Psycho poetry and poetry therapy can be based on different programmes

One of the more common programmes is made up of ‘ten poetry’, a programme with ten phases, the first and last of which are based on one initial and final perception of oneself, whilst the other eight phases are centred around exploring fundamental, evolutionary experiences based on the Eriksonian theory, in order to help improve one’s overall well-being.

In order to encourage composition and poetic expression, the techniques of psycho poetry and poetry therapy are used alongside other techniques, methods and instruments.

One of these is music, which can act as a support to poetry, or vice versa, to placate some emotions, even going as far as becoming a real form of music therapy which supports the current process.
Also useful are relaxation techniques, which are used as a quicker and deeper gateway to the emotional parts of one’s behaviour.
Artistic creation complements the possibility of emotional, poetic expression by highlighting emotional tensions with shape and space, as occurs, for example, in the poetic tradition of Apollinaire, during which words can be played around with, emphasising, in an ambiguous way, more than one concept, or, as is the case with Covoni, underlining a poetic word, which is sometimes accompanied by pictures, thus giving rise to an actual ‘visible poem’.
The psychology of colour and colour therapy are combined with poetry, like music, to evoke or underline certain emotions, often together with expressive dramatisation, which allows patients to interpret and communicate their emotions to others, which symbolise the parts of them that they want to establish and sustain in social contexts.
According to the tradition of Spanish-Arabic poetic compositions, dancing and singing the emotions written in a poem allows poetry to become a sort of 'jig'. This method is used in a modern form which is almost free from traditional models and it involves members of the group dancing and singing to a quatrain, which is sung by a soloist.
The use of symbolic rituals often represents a way to signal steps from old behavioural models to new ones, as occurs when a person decides to burn or throw out something that he/she wants to leave in the past.
Finally, psycho poetry or poetry therapy group activities are often carried out against the backdrop of therapeutic contact with nature, the use of which has been underlined by eco-psychologists, as well as oriental philosophy.

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