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April 27, 2012

Poetry & Your Health

We have a very special treat for you all this month! Sandals Lifestyle had a heart-to-heart with Health and Psychology journalist and author, Linda Wasmer Andrews, to learn more about a unique form of therapy being used throughout the United States to improve mental health and moods.

Poetry and expressive writing can be therapeutic. According to Andrews, therapists and researchers tend to focus on the use of poetry to help people cope with traumatic or stressful experiences. Andrews says that through the ages, poetry has been used to express the whole spectrum of human experiences, including positive ones: the exhilaration of a new love, the peacefulness of a lazy day at the beach, the marvel of a gorgeous sunset—perhaps that’s why a trip to the Caribbean always seems to soothe the soul!

If you ask someone to express her feelings about a recent heartbreak in a four-line poem, the person may freeze up. But that same person might have no problem pouring her heart into a 140-character tweet.” ~ Linda Wasmer Andrews

SL: Have there been any new developments or findings regarding therapists who use poetry reading or writing to facilitate healing?

 

LA: In a recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, therapists analyzed women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer within the last two years. For the early breast cancer survivors in this study who wrote about either their feelings or the facts of their cancer experience, saw an improvement in their overall well-being when compared to those who wrote about any traumatic event they chose and those who didn’t write at all.

SL: Do therapists generally tend to read works that pertain to their patients’ specific situations and feelings, or are they more randomly selected?

LA: In bibliotherapy, or reading with the aim of deriving some therapeutic benefit or solving a personal problem, the therapist selects a particular work for their patients to read and discuss because it relates to some experience or feeling they’re working through. The reading material might be poetry, but it might also be a novel, a play, or even a self-help book.

SL: What are some of the specific ways that poetry could help someone?

LA: Expressive writing that discloses challenging experiences can lead to improvements in moods, immune cell counts, liver enzyme levels, and antibody response to vaccines. Studies regarding expressive writing, however, have mostly looked at structured, narrative writing, not unstructured, non-narrative poetry. Poetry therapy can be a healing experience. Through devices such as metaphor and imagery, it taps directly into feelings that might otherwise be hard to put into words.

SL: Have you made any new discoveries in regards to poetry being therapeutic?

LA: I think a lot of people are put off by the word “poetry.” It conjures up bad memories of red marks on English papers. But writing poetry is really nothing more than the use of language to distill the vital essence of experience and emotion. You’re summing up a lot with a little, and that’s a very natural fit for the way people communicate in the age of social media.

If you ask someone to express her feelings about a recent heartbreak in a four-line poem, the person may freeze up. But that same person might have no problem pouring her heart into a 140-character tweet.

More of Linda Wasmer Andrews’ healthy knowledge can be found in her Psychology Today and Yahoo! Health blog posts.

Seeing that poetry and expressive writing can be therapeutic; for your health, enjoy this classic poem by Derek Walcott, a native of St. Lucia and Nobel Laureate:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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