June 15, 2022

Poetry As Medicine

Photo: griffert | Pixabay

There’s a growing body of evidence in the medical scientific literature to support the use of poetry and the arts in clinical practice – to enhance empathy, communication skills, and both patient and clinician wellbeing. I saw this in an article from the Irish Times by a doctor (unfortunately, the article requires a subscription) who admits that "As a medic, it took me a while to appreciate this." There's a special relationship between poetry and medicine, and great value that physicians, other healthcare professionals, and patients could derive from making better use of this art form.

I have been doing some research into this and considering it for a future writing prompt.It is not just writing poetry that can heal.  I have seen studies that show that patients who read poetry together experience decreased pain and symptoms of depression.

Other studies found that poetry can sharpen listening, attentiveness, observation, and analytical skills. It can refine the artistic side of medicine: Poetry allows us to express ourselves, fosters creativity, and accepts ambiguity. It enhances empathy, self-awareness, and introspection.

There is a National Association for Poetry Therapy which is about the use of language, symbol, and story in therapeutic, educational, growth, and community-building capacities. It relies upon the use of poems, stories, song lyrics, imagery, and metaphor to facilitate personal growth, healing, and greater self-awareness.

I would not claim that poetry can heal physical ailments but writing and reading poetry can be healing and transformative because poems reflect the voice of the soul. Writing - poetry, journaling, memoir etc. -  is a way to nurture a mindfulness practice because when writing (maybe especially with poems), we have the chance to unleash the unconscious mind.

Studies using MRIs show that poetry causes the part of the brain that activates during daydreaming to light up while reading or listening to poetry. It can "brighten" the brain and improve memory. Poetry often sticks with the reader, causing them to re-read and even memorize the words.

I ran a workshop for healthcare professionals a few years ago and found several books that were useful in preparing for the sessions.


Visit our website at poetsonline.org

1 comment:

  1. My experience, as a Family Therapist practicing collaboratively with physicians, confirms these studies. Improved technology and emerging interest combine to confirm - and sometimes explain - how poetry and other forms of art have biological as well as psychological impacts. Poetry is powerful.
    Frank Kelly


* * All comments must be approved by the site administrator before appearing in order to prevent spam.