Poetry/Therapy

Aspin, Stephanie (2019) Poetry/Therapy. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

The subject of this thesis is the role writing plays in maintaining our mental health. It is primarily concerned with poetry and its relationship to therapy. The key idea put forward in this thesis is that language is experienced as a fabric of meanings which individuals use in therapeutic ways: as a means of self-expression, to attain agency, or to change the world as it is experienced to make it more liveable.

The methodology employed throughout is to apply literary criticism and theory (poststructuralist analysis) in a consideration of literary texts, workshop and interview material and evidence from the clinical literature in counselling and psychology.

Chapter one provides an overview of poetry therapy as a distinct modality. In this thesis I explore the relationship between poetry and therapy from two positions: as distinct therapeutic intervention and as a theme which runs through much writing practice and theory. The main finding here is that engaging in writing poetry for therapeutic purposes results in both an increased sense of personal agency and an opportunity to transform difficult or traumatic experiences. These findings are evidenced through the discussion of a series of poetry therapy workshops I facilitated at the University of East Anglia.

Chapter two provides an account and a discussion of a series of interviews with three professional poets. These poets are explicit about the fact that writing helps them to re-fashion the world and to achieve a sense of personal identity and agency: these are all benefits which are ascribed to amateur writers writing for therapy. I conclude that even when individuals write for purely aesthetic reasons there is a contiguous therapeutic effect.

Chapter three is concerned with how empathy is established and communicated in a therapeutic setting through the use of language. The focus of the chapter is a poetry therapy group I facilitated with four counsellors. The key finding which emerges from this chapter is that the image (or word) is a powerful mechanism for containment and transformation of feeling and is identified as the predominant function of group talk in this context.

Chapter four focusses on how poetic images can be employed to articulate trauma in an oblique way. The first half of the chapter is concerned with literary texts and explores the idea that one of the key psychological drivers to writing poetically is to have our experience represented in an accurate way ⏤which takes account of what is known and has been assimilated at the conscious level as well as that which remains liminal at the lived edge of experiencing. In the second half I look at the ways in which images figure in therapy in an analysis of a discussion with two therapists and close-reading literary texts related to trauma. The key finding here is that poetic imagery provides a way of naming trauma which is able to articulate experience in profound and complex ways.

Chapter five addresses the idea of narrative: how extant narrative/s (or story) can provide a psychological resource for the individual seeking to make sense of, support or change their personal experience of the world. This chapter explores literary texts and narratives derived from other sources – narrative poetry, material from Twitter and poetry produced in therapy are considered in the discussion.

Chapter six presents a final exploration of how language carries with it more meanings than what we ourselves bring to it. I examine poetry as a form of psychological ritual and the ritual function of poetry and consider the role poetry plays in magic and religion. This chapter includes a discussion of poetry which uses ritual forms in relation to a workshop I facilitated in which participants were invited to construct a ‘personal ritual’ for a specific purpose. This material is set in the context of both the anthropological and psychological literature on ritual practice.

This thesis brings together ideas from psychology and the therapeutic modalities with discourses from literary theory, philosophy and political thought; it also breaks down what has hitherto been seen as a boundary between the activity of professional poets and amateurs writing with an explicitly therapeutic intent. In this way, the approach taken to the topic offers a comprehensive explanation of why writing poetry in the service of mental health works.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Education and Lifelong Learning
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2020 09:55
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2020 09:55
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/77806
DOI:

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