Poetry evokes a number of different thoughts, feelings, and images but is rarely associated with therapy despite being an incredible tool for mental health- which begs the question, how can you use poetry as therapy?
The first step is to get over yourself and silence that inner critic that stops you before you start.
Step two, get over yourself!
Yes, it's the same as the first step, that's how important it is; poetry therapy is a personal exercise, like journaling, and no one is expected to be the next Shakespeare or Walt Whitman.
Which leads me to the third step, write bad poetry!
Most people don't undertake new activities out of fear of looking foolish, so why not turn the tables?
Aim to write bad poetry as a step to silence the inner critic and become more comfortable exploring your own creativity.
Okay, truthfully there are very few genuinely creative people on the planet- the ones whose creations are so powerful they can make a living being creative.
But that does not exclude everyday people from tapping into their creative inner selves.
Human beings have an innate creative drive, but because of embarrassing school projects, most of us cut ourselves off from those outlets.
So what if your poems don't win any literary awards or sway the masses, that's not what poetry therapy is about, and that is why steps 1 and 2 are so important.
Poetry therapy is about re-connecting to a powerful drive every person has within themselves to create.
In a therapeutic setting, poetry can create the bridge between emotion and thought.
Why does this matter?
Because as humans we have a very old part of the brain which includes the amygdala, hypothalamus, thalamus, and hippocampus all of which are responsible for emotion and memory and will be called the emotional brain for that reason.
Luckily, we also have the neocortex which takes care of language, reasoning, and planning and is a much more recent development that we'll call the logic brain.
This is important because most often problems aren't resolved by thinking through them alone, or by bursting out in an emotional rampage.
By connecting the emotional brain and the logical brain we can resolve issues much more effectively while simultaneously developing greater insight into our own personalities and predilections.
Poetry, therefore, is a perfect way of bridging this gap in the mind.
You must use the logical part of the brain to construct meaningful, coherent, sentences and stanzas, and you need the emotional part to really bring your poetry to life and uncover the truth behind your emotions.
Let's assume at this point that you are ready to start developing this immensely important creative side of yourself, but you haven't quite silenced that inner critic.
Well then, it's time to turn the tables.
If that inner critic says "there's no point, everything you write will be awful," then write awful poetry!
Take the power away from that negative internal voice by doing exactly what that voice is so concerned with.
Despite the many and varied rules to hundreds of types of poetry, poetry is itself an experiment.
It's a no-risk gamble that has the potential for a huge pay-off; that pay-off being your mental health.
The poet and philosopher in me says, "do poetry for its own sake, awaken the profound creative genius that has been dormant for too long!"
The pragmatist in me knows that poetry is a genuine method of connecting the logic brain to the deeper, older, emotional brain, and through that connection, every person has the ability to resolve deeply troubling internal struggles.
So, how do you start? Step 1, get over yourself, silence the inner critic.
Step 2, get over yourself! Poetry is a personal endeavor, no one is expecting you to be the next Shakespeare.
Step 3, write bad poetry.
Few people excel at new tasks, be content to be bad, and know that the purpose is to learn about yourself; deepen your understanding of the problems you face; and heal wounds through creative expression.
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