Poetry therapy and Bibliotherapy

"In the desert of the heart Let the healing fountain start." - W. H. Auden

Poetry therapy and bibliotherapy are terms used synonymously to describe the intentional use of poetry and other forms of literature for healing and personal growth. The term "biblio" means books and, by extension, literature. "Therapy" is derived from the Greek word "therapeia" meaning "to serve or help medically." Basically then, bibliotherapy is the use of literature to promote mental health.

Developmental interactive bibliotherapy refers to the use of literature, discussion and creative writing with children in schools and hospitals, adults in growth and support groups, and older persons in senior centers and nursing homes. In these community settings, bibliotherapy is used not only to foster growth and development, but it is used as a preventive tool in mental health.

Clinical interactive bibliotherapy refers to the use of literature, discussion and creative writing to promote healing and growth in psychiatric units, community mental health centers, and chemical dependency units.

Bibliotherapy has a broad range of applications with people of all ages and is used for health and maintenance, as well as with individuals requiring treatment for various illnesses and conditions. Examples of these are veterans, substance abusers, adolescents, the learning disabled, families with problems, prisoners in rehabilitation, the frail elderly, the physically challenged, and survivors of violence, abuse and incest. The literature and case studies provide evidence that poetry therapy is an effective and powerful tool with many different populations.

The goals of poetry therapy are:

- To develop accuracy and understanding in perceiving self and others;
- To develop creativity, self-expression, and greater self-esteem;
- To strengthen interpersonal skills and communication skills;
- To ventilate overpowering emotions and release tension;
- To find new meaning through new ideas, insights, and information; and
- To promote change and increase coping skills and adaptive functions.

Poetry therapy is an interactive process with three essential components: the literature, the trained facilitator, and the client(s). A trained biblio/poetry therapist selects a poem or other form of written or spoken media to serve as a catalyst and evoke feeling responses for discussion. The interactive process helps the individual to develop on emotional, cognitive, and social levels. The focus is on the person's reaction to the literature, never losing sight of the primary objective-the psychological health and well-being of the client.

The poetry therapist creates a gentle, non-threatening atmosphere where people feel safe and are invited to share feelings openly and honestly. The facilitator chooses literature that will be effective therapeutically; this requires training, knowledge of literature, and clinical skills. Four stages can be identified with the interactive process:

1. Recognition:
To begin with, participants must be able to recognize and identify with the selection.

2. Examination:
During this phase, participants explore specific details with the assistance of the bibliotherapist.

3. Juxtaposition:
This is a process that explores the significant interplay between contrasts and comparisons. Looking at an experience from a directly opposite point of view can provide an awareness that may become the basis for wise choices in attitude and behavior.

4. Application to Self:
It is important for the client to make the connection between the individual and the literature, and to apply the new knowledge to his or her own self in the real world. At the end of the session, the facilitator will provide closure to deal with unfinished business, and help participants to integrate what has been learned. The process of reading and writing, encouraged by the sensitive guidance of professionals trained in bibliotherapy, acts as a significant catalyst for self-integration.


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