(Some of you may remember my Mom, whose first Litkicks piece was about Paul Auster, Franz Kafka and a doll. Lila Lizabeth Weisberger is also renowned in the field of poetry therapy (and whether or not there is any connection between Litkicks Action Poetry and the Poetry Therapy movement remains an enduring mystery). I asked her to write a piece explaining what “poetry therapy” means and how she became involved in the organizations that are trying to spread the word about it. Thanks for sending this, Mom. — Levi)
When I worked as a school psychologist, I used creative arts therapies with elementary through high school age children. Poetry was an integral part of the group work I did with parents and teachers. I determined to increase my ability to use poetry and writing effectively and to train to become a poetry therapist.
I saw this training as a way to increase my effectiveness and to give me more tools. I trained for four years through the National Association for Poetry Therapy. Over the following twelve years, I was given the honor of being the first student member of the Board. Thereafter I was elected to the Board, became chairperson of all credentialing of new poetry therapists and subsequently was elected as president of the National Association for Poetry Therapy. I became a Mentor to other trainees and subsequently earned the title of Master Mentor/Supervisor.
I also received a number of awards along the way. I contributed book reviews to the professional Journal of Poetry Therapy and have had a column, “Findings”, in NAPT’s Museletter for over ten years. I subsequently became a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist in New York State, and created a non-profit corporation, bridgeXngs. Beginning January 1 2010 I became Director of the newly formed credentialing body, International Academy for Poetry Therapy.
A major accomplishment for me is the book I co-authored in 2003, The Healing Fountain: Poetry Therapy for Life’s Journey. The book is comprised of chapters written by 17 poetry therapists. The introduction to the book includes the following information:
Poetry therapy has both ancient and contemporary roots. In ancient times, Greek libraries were designated as healing places of the soul, and Greek tragic theater were viewed as cathartic for the entire community. King David sang psalms to comfort Saul, and the ancient poets were recognized as shamans and healers within various cultures. In the past 45 years poetry therapy has been defined as a unique professional field, a sister profession to the other creative arts therapies: art, dance, drama, music and psychodrama.
While some poetry therapists who are trained as clinicians include poetry therapy as a part of their therapy, other poetry therapists introduce poetry for those seeking to explore life issues and enhance their development. In both clinical and non-clinical settings, poetry therapists select poems or other literary materials to suit their client’s particular needs and goals, facilitate fruitful and frank discussion of these works, and provide exercises to stimulate and encourage their clients’ own creative expressions.
Poetic expression can be harnessed to foster growth, help alleviate pain, and improve the quality of life. When we read or hear a poem, our senses, minds and souls all participate in the act. Because poems elicit responses on so many levels, they often function as vehicles for enlightenment and healing. Many people have a love of poetry and even use certain words as a mantra, especially in times of trial. Through vivid lines of verse, we get the opportunity to perceive the everyday substance of our own lives transformed magically in language that mirrors and confirms who we are.
Poets achieve a vivid compactness unlikely to be found in other literary genre. A few well-chosen words and condensed metaphors can tap a well of feelings, thoughts and associations. Poet Stanley Kunitz states: “Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live therefore for the sake of poetry? No the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”