Entries Tagged as 'art therapy'

Let words be your poison

January 23, 2015

3, 2, 1

Happy new year!

So maybe the way we count hours, days, months and years is based on an arbitrary system but still, you and I know that time passes and that, in any case, it’s 2015. And  within those seconds that count down to a new year, you can almost feel that you won’t be the same after the clock strikes twelve. And sometimes you are not. Because this is how change happens: you close your eyes, you smile and decide to live your life differently.

Last time I blogged, I concluded that I should start asking better questions. I was deep in my summer blues and writing about it, both offline and online, helped. It helped me cope with my life’s transitions and gave me a sense of control over what felt an inexplicable wave of emotions. And that’s normal. Because that’s what writing does: rather than allowing you to banish your sadness or avoid suffering, it helps you find a way to suffer better. ‘Do not ignore or throw away your grief,’ sculptor Richard Serra says. As opposed to the prevailing empty self help jargon to stay positive, taking a moment to acknowledge and process your feelings, gives you a chance to honour them. So I now write more. Not in order to finish a novel. Not to improve my writing skills. Not to get published, but as an emotional release, as a way to connect with myself and to one another.

And through a series of workshops, I want to share my insights of the last few years on therapeutic creative writing. Because I have learnt from Victoria Field that you don’t need therapy when you have creative writing: writing is that important because, as  Gillie Bolton says,  ‘it uses our ordinary everyday worlds and puts things together in different ways rather than tearing them apart – it puts elements together that weren’t together before. It’s that congruence, that meeting of different things that makes poetry flash fire and make things happen for us.’

Forget what your teacher or anyone has told you. Your writing is valid. Your writing is enough. Your writing is important. Write more this year, write freely. Discover yourself, write in odd places, on large pieces of paper, on post-its or even napkins. Write in quiet, uninterrupted places, write in a noisy cafe, in a stuffy waiting room. Let those well hidden emotions bubble to the surface. Let it be your psychotherapy, your meditation.

Alice in Wonderland, Illustration by John Tenniel

Alice in Wonderland, Illustration by John Tenniel

If you need an extra push you can start with an exercise from the book  The Writer’s Key by Gillie Bolton. Complete the following sentence beginnings. You can write a statement or a lot more than that. Don’t think too much. You can also do your exercise in the comments below or just share your feedback on how the exercise felt.

I am…

I know…

I think…

I believe…

I remember…

I feel…

I want…

I wish…

I can…

I wonder…

I hope…

I was told…

I promise myself I will…

 Join me. Let words be your drug, your poison of choice.

Love, Louiza


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How poetry can transform your life. Interview with Victoria Field

March 27, 2014

I blogged before about the healing power of words, so today I am very excited to be talking about this topic with a specialist. Victoria Field is a Poetry Therapist, a professional who brings together her twin passions for literature and psychology to enable people to identify issues, express their feelings and transform their life through the use of words. Victoria talks about her own journey, why she thinks that poems are powerful therapeutic tools, offers advice and, at the very end, she gives us homework!

Hi Victoria! I am so pleased and honoured to have you today on the blog to talk about the therapeutic power of poetry. When and how did your journey with poetry therapy begin?

My academic background is in psychology although I’ve always loved literature. I read voraciously as a child and  wrote letters and diaries, but it wasn’t until I did my first ever writing workshop on the island of Skyros at the age of 32 that I realised the power of using the material of my own life as a basis for poems and fiction. After working abroad for many years, I came back to the UK and took a job as Director of Survivors Poetry – an organisation that’s still thriving. That led me to Lapidus – ditto – and through contacts there, I found myself on a weekend workshop led by John Fox, an eminent practitioner of poetry therapy. I felt I’d come home. I’d never heard of Poetry Therapy as a profession but from that point on, knew it was for me. It brings together my interests in psychology and literature and also my own personal experience of the transformatory power of writing.

I would think that the work of a poetry therapist is premised on the belief that poems are powerful therapeutic tools. Would you agree?

Yes, poems are therapeutic tools. Many people have a favourite poem tucked into their handbag or wallet, or snipped out of a newspaper. Poems are commonplace now at weddings, funerals and baby namings. At times of great joy or sorrow, many people are moved to write a poem. When we read a poem that captures our experience accurately, we feel we aren’t alone.

Why do poems have this therapeutic potential?

I think a poem is a contained space – it’s manageable, in contrast to the chaos of the world around us and the things life might throw at us. Good poems are richly ambiguous – they don’t tell us what to think, but open an imaginative space where we can find ourselves. Poems are provisional – they are like a snapshot – and offer the potential for change.

Can you explain the role of a poetry therapist? 

Many people discover the benefits of reading and writing poetry for themselves.  The role of the Poetry Therapist is to harness these natural impulses with the express intention of promoting health and wellbeing. Poetry – like fire or any other powerful medium should also be handled with care.  It is possible for individuals to write themselves into a dark place, and working with someone trained can help to keep the process safe – but not too safe.  The Poetry Therapist can offer appropriate challenges and to facilitate change, or to enable an individual to have a more nuanced take on life.  A lot of human suffering is due to seeing the world or the self as all-good or all-bad – poems have the ability to transform and re-imagine difficult life situations.

As a poetry therapist, you have an extensive experience in various settings with different groups. Can you share any examples from your practice?

Poetry therapy can be well adapted to be used in many circumstances – for example, where people may not be able to write themselves, the poetry therapist can ‘scribe’ for them.  Sometimes, the poetry therapist will focus on reading aloud and eliciting responses.  It can be used in one-to-one psychotherapy – my friend and colleague Dr Niall Hickey of Poetry Reach in Ireland does so extensively and his clients actually write in the consulting room.  My own practice is mostly with groups where the sharing of writing is part of the therapeutic process.

I have worked in many different settings, including on a stroke unit, care homes, one-to-one with someone with dementia over a couple of years, a day hospital for people with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illness. However my main interest is in the use of poetry therapy for people with mild mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, for whatever reason.  I am convinced that, like a programme of exercise, reading and writing in a group has enormous potential for people to gain a sense of mastery over their condition, whatever it is.  I would love there to be more research in this area, especially as low-level unhappiness is endemic in our society.

Nowadays we are overwhelmed by self-help books. What is your opinion on self help books/non-fiction as opposed to literature/poetry therapy?

I love self-help books!  I read lots of popular psychology as well as more academic stuff.  I’m also very keen on memoir and life-writing – I think the more we engage with other people’s stories, the more we can understand our own.

You are a poet, a writer, a playwright. Have you found writing therapeutic for you?

Yes, I am a published creative writer and whilst I keep that separate from my practice as a Poetry Therapist in my professional life, my inspiration for both comes from the same well.  I think it is really important that anyone working with others understands her own processes.  Sometimes though, these are only apparent later.  For example, I am working on my third play – the central character is a Victorian Bishop and it’s based on real events, even though I’ve changed many details. I’ve had two plays previously produced by Hall for Cornwall – one about a butcher and his family and the other a riff on Grimms fairy tales and the collapse of communism.  It’s only now that I see that all three plays – ostensibly very different – have a concern with the role of fathers.  So, I’m working through something even if it’s unconscious at the time.

That’s why I like different  genres – poetry for me is about sound and image, drama is about moral dilemmas and motivation, fiction gives characters the opportunity to ‘walk around’ in their own lives with the narrator acting as a kind of all-seeing eye, or a filter.  I’ve also written as-yet unpublished book-length memoir about walking to Santiago in which I told the story of a marriage and got something out of my system. Yes, my writing is definitely therapeutic for me – I can’t imagine not doing it.

How can someone train to qualify as a poetry therapist?

There’s no accreditation for Poetry Therapy in the UK but there are plenty of people working using writing and reading therapeutically.  I take on trainees under the auspices of the US National Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy – see my website www.poetrytherapynews.com  The starting point I recommend in the UK, is to join Lapidus – a vibrant group reflecting the breadth and depth of practice in the field.

I am a primary school teacher and I have witnessed, in various occasions, the therapeutic potential of literature. Do you have any advice/suggestions for me to integrate aspects of poetry therapy into my practice?

I used to work in schools and observed how empowering it is when a child or student writes and reads aloud a poem or story that has come from an authentic place.  The crucial thing about poetry therapy is that it’s non-judgemental and it’s about the depth of the process rather than a literary endeavour so I’d say the aspect to incorporate is permission to experience writing ‘in the moment’ and to accept what comes, rather than trying to fix either the writer or the writing.

Do you have any suggestions for those of us who want to learn more about this fascinating area?

I’d say, join Lapidus and get involved with your local group.  Members have access to the Lapidus Journal online which is full of interesting articles and resources.  There’s also a Lapidus Facebook group where people post useful links to articles and events.  There are lots of blogs out there – including my own mentioned above.

Can you give a poetry therapy exercise/challenge to our readers?

Find a book of poems and read aloud one that appeals to you.  Read it several times and observe your reactions – do you respond to any particular line or image?  How does the poem make you feel?  Then take a line from the poem and use that to write your own (a poem doesn’t have to be formal, rhyming or even ‘poetic’) – just write without judgement.  Then read what you’ve written.  What does it tell you?

Beautiful! Victoria, I want to thank you for sharing all these valuable insights. As for you, dear readers, make sure you do Victoria’s exercise; if you can’t find a poem, see if you can use the one I have shared here, written  by Victoria Field and post your response below! If you want to learn more about Victoria’s work, do check her website and grab a copy of her books.

Full Moon at Little White Alice

In spite of hats, coats and candles, we’re cold and fear
is in the frosty air: for our own health, that of others,
for the planet, our families, businesses and love affairs,
paintings or projects. We’re afraid of moving and changing,

the process by which butterflies leave the chrysalis,
a new-born baby first cries, tearing open her lungs.
Stagnating’s not an option. Time taunts us: the ticking clock
mocking our bodies, no longer young, a slow decoupling

from our sister moon. We walk in silent meditation round
the high, granite-strewn pool, seeing, as we step with care,
a frill of thin ice form in the reeds along the edge, watch,
amazed, as Rosie suddenly sheds all of her clothes. She dives,

spine curved in a crescent, breaks the black water, sending
courage, like a scatter of stars, up into the still January air.

from The Lost Boys published by Waterloo Press  


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