Imagine receiving a poem instead of a standard prescription during your next doctor visit. Used to assist cancer patients and adolescents; those struggling with autism, depression or the dark avenues of grief -- poetry therapy is a powerful method of healing. Through the act of creating a poem or reading aloud specific verse that echo's experience, a harmonious equilibrium is encouraged for both body and mind.
A poem a day dispels the dark clouds of chronic illness
Chronic illness can leave one exhausted, disempowered and depressed. Instead of turning to pharmaceutical drugs for answers, many are discovering the healing potential of poetry. In the Utne article by Kim Rosen, "The Healing Power of Poetry," Jan's life was altered by a chance encounter with poetic verse. Struggling with a chronic illness that completely sapped her energy and zest for life, she could barely get through her day as a teacher. Doctors, therapists and alternative health practitioners were unable to alleviate her bone crushing exhaustion. Then a friend presented Jan with a box of poetry for her 46th birthday with the instructions to "take one of these envelopes to a quiet place with a window onto nature, or a beautiful plant, or a candle. Sit comfortably and read the poem aloud to yourself, preferably more than once." Each day upon waking, Jan followed the instructions. Before long, her healing began on a much needed physio-emotional level.
According to Rosen, who had also found miraculous relief during a period of suicidal depression, poetry is a powerful ally. She relates it to a "shaman's drum or a Sanskrit chant, the rhythm of the poem entrains your heartbeat, the phrasing changes your breathing, and the sounds resonate within the crystalline structures in your bones and fascia." Rosen continues, "…current scientific research shows that your brainwaves, breathing and pulse literally change when you give voice to a poem, opening your mind beyond ordinary thinking. The physical elements of the poem literally create the biochemical circumstances for healing and insight."
Giving voice to the silent experience of autism
Elizabeth is an autistic 13-year-old who cannot speak. As observed by her mother, "She has shattered the silence of autism and found an escape from its shackles in the beauty of her poetry." Elizabeth learned to write through a teaching methodology called Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). By assessing the students primary way of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile) a custom tailored program is created. Using a letter board, Elizabeth learned to form complete sentences, giving voice to her silent experience of autism. Poetry followed soon after -- creating a healthy (and vivid) outlet for her emotions.
The poetry of cancer
Cancer patients can benefit from the soothing balm of poetry as well. For those suffering from this terrifying disease, writing poetry about their personal journey clarifies the experience, lending necessary understanding and acceptance. It provides a means of expression for worries and fears, helping to ease anxiety and stress about the condition. Research psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker has demonstrated a strong link between emotional release writing and enhancement of the immune system -- highlighting the significance of writing for physical and emotional well-being.
In times of illness as well as in times of health, Patch Adams, MD reminds us: "Creativity is great medicine for all, both the creator and the one who experiences it. It prevents disease and promotes wellness. It is not indulgence, it is fundamental to medical practice."
Sources for this article include:
"I Am in Here: The Journey of a child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice" Elizabeth M. Bonker, Virginia G. Breen, Revell-Baker Publishing Group, 2011.