This blog post is inspired by the Training of Trainers on July 2020. It was a meaningful learning experience for both the participants and us instructors. It included interactive lectures, discussions, and writing workshops. In the three workshops, participants gained experiences in, for example, writing haiku poems, distancing from a painful life experience through poetic expression, changing perspectives, sharing writings in small groups, and using images to support writing and discussions. The discussions and texts were deep and touching. Participants gained insights and learned not only about therapeutic writing but also themselves.
I remember especially the poems written during the last workshop. The idea was to reflect on the taboos of writing, on things that should “not” be written for one reason or another. First, the participants listed themes that they felt were forbidden, and then considered if those themes could be approached by turning them into fairy tales, changing details, writing poems about them, using third-person descriptions, etc. Finally, they wrote a poem on a forbidden subject by distancing from its painful aspects in such a way that writing and anonymous sharing became possible.
I was honored to receive the resulting poems. Although I have facilitated poetry therapy groups for 18 years, I never cease to be amazed at how powerful a therapeutic tool poetry is. It helps to verbalize the unspoken and to express very deep, often painful and unprocessed feelings. Several poems made me cry. I wondered how people who were strangers to each other two days earlier could enter such a shared space, and produce poems so touching, authentic and easy to identify with. As I read them, a feeling of hope for humanity rose in me – the poems crystallized our inner wisdom, authenticity and honesty, which are often hidden beneath our daily facades.
Docent Juhani Ihanus (2009, 38), a pioneer of poetry therapy – whose lecture was part of our training – aptly comments on the therapeutic significance of poems: “The poem may derive structuring characters, a reworking of painful experiences. Creative fantasy, play, and sense of joy lead to the sources of memories and insights and their rewriting. In the interaction of poetry therapy, it is permissible to feel ambiguous, share strange imaginations, become sensitive and try different symbols, metaphors, rhythms and interpretations.”
Psychoanalyst Heli Mertanen (2009, 255) states that the author of a poem releases herself while at the same time structures herself. The poem is not just words arranged in succession. Rather, the words resonate in different layers of the mind and body, enabling a holistic unification (Mertanen 2009, 252). The poem seeks to find meaning in things by building connections between the abstract and the concrete. Psychotherapist Noel Shafi (2010) generally defines poetry as “a powerful tool of metaphorical communication that can influence an individual’s cognitive state”. Poetry is a language rich in meanings that uses rhymes, rhythm and figurative language systematically. This is how poetry evokes emotions. (Shafi 2010, 87).
In the training, we talked very much about metaphors, which are an integral part of poems. Metaphors change the meanings of words, open up hidden meanings, expand perspective, and at the same time create new connections between words (Ihanus 2009, 28). In this way, our sense experience can be perceived in a new way. At its best, a metaphor can provide crucial insight that helps you make the right choices in life. We had the opportunity to experience this insight in our training. It will hopefully remain with us and help every trainer in the guidance of the Heroines groups.
Ihanus, J. 2009. Sanat että hoitaisimme: kirjallisuusterapia ja kertomukset. In a book Ihanus, J. (ed.) Sanat että hoitaisimme. Terapeuttinen kirjoittaminen. Helsinki: Duodecim
Mertanen, H. 2009. Poeettinen ja metaforinen kieli hoitotyössä. In a book Ihanus, J. (ed.) Sanat että hoitaisimme. Terapeuttinen kirjoittaminen. Helsinki: Duodecim.
Shafi, N. 2010. Poetry therapy and schizophrenia: Clinical and neurological perspectives. Journal of Poetry Therapy 23(2), 87–99.
Written by Karoliina Maanmieli, the Finnish Association of Poetry Therapy