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Harnessing the healing power of poetry-writing

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Poetry could be the new weapon in the battle against workplace pressure.

Writing poetry has been shown to boost levels of immunoglobulin. Another study found that writing poetry helped 8 per cent of patients to come off their antidepressants.

Poetry therapy has been used for healing since Roman times. The first poetry therapist on record was the Roman physician Soranus, who prescribed tragedy for his manic patients and comedy for those with depression in the first century AD.

The ancient Egyptians also recognised the healing power of words, writing on papyrus that was dissolved in solution and swallowed by the patient.

Sigmund Freud recognised the relationship between the arts and healing, saying: “Not I, but the poet discovered the unconscious.” Jacob Moreno suggested the term “psychopoetry”, as well as the better-known “psychodrama”.

An American pharmacist, poet and lawyer, Eli Greifer, began a campaign to show that a poem’s didactic message has healing power. He started a “poemtherapy” group at Creedmore State Hospital, New York, as well as a poetry therapy group in conjunction with psychiatrists at Cumberland Hospital, Virginia, in the 1950s. His pioneering work led to the creation of the National Association for Poetry Therapy in 1969.

Here in Britain, Poetry in the Waiting Room (PitWR) is a national “arts in health” charity that provides poetry cards for NHS waiting rooms. Readers keep the free pamphlets “as an enduring rather than ephemeral link with poetry”.

Poetry cards have been published since 1998, with over a quarter of a million distributed. PitWR is now the most widely read regular poetry publication, and the most extensive arts in health programme in the NHS.

Guidelines for poetry submissions to PitWR are restrictive, says editor Michael Lee. Readers are patients waiting for a consultation and are probably anxious and concerned, so poems are only accepted if they are sensitive to these feelings in ways that alleviates the pressure and avoid new emotional challenge.

“Poems should therefore flow from the springs of well-being,” says Mr Lee. “Hope is all-inclusive, but images and symbols, such as home and acceptance, safe journey and arrival, friends and companionship, spring and renaissance, together with all the joys of love and learning, are eminently appropriate.”

PitWR is committed to an independent research programme to explore the socioeconomic aspects of poetry in the community and the related topic of poetry and therapy.

Studies have found that poems may act as an adjuvant to a medical consultation, and that the cost benefit of PitWR amounts to some 10-fold the cost in terms of improved patient satisfaction.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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