Goal of poetry therapy is healing and growth




Poetry therapy revolves around “the process, not the product.”

Those are the words of Mari Alschuler, a licensed independent social worker and licensed poetry therapist.

Alschuler said art, music and dance therapy are probably better known than poetry therapy, which began to evolve in the mid-1970s.

“Poetry therapy is a form of self-expression,” Alschuler said. For many people, it’s easier to write down their feelings than speak them, she said.

“Poetry lends itself to writing prompts,” she continued. For example, she might use the phrase “I used to be ... but now I am ...” as a springboard for poetry.

The therapist emphasized that participants in poetry therapy “don’t have to be writers.” Unfortunately, she said, some people “have negative comments about poetry” because of “bad” experiences with it. Rhyming poetry and poetry that they didn’t understand may have given some a dim view of the literary form.

Poetry therapy focuses on feelings; grammar, spelling and punctuation are not important. “It’s about putting on paper what you think and feel,” she said. She added that participants in poetry therapy come for “personal and healing reasons” not to have poetry critiqued.

Alschuler said poetry- therapy sessions focus on such feelings and situations as grief — which might include feelings over a break-up, divorce or job loss. “They all deal with loss. It’s the commonality,” she said, though the situations are different.

Other themes for poetry-therapy groups might be mother-daughter issues, self-esteem or stress management.

She said engaging in poetry therapy is a “way to achieve closure” after a loss, for example.

Alschuler said she uses 20th-century poets in therapy. She picks the poetry after talking with potential group members to tune the selections to the dynamic of the group. She said poetry in therapy is used for “healing and growth.” Therapy might include using “thematically relevant” song lyrics, reflective writing or excerpts from prose with participants responding to it.

Alschuler is in the process of forming a grief and loss writing support group, which will meet at 6 p.m. Mondays for six weeks. Five participants are required; there will be a screening process. There are fees. These will be in “closed group” form; that is, the same group of people will meet. “That way, people are comfortable,” she said, adding they don’t have to explain their circumstances every time the group gathers.

She is in private practice at 1601 Motor Inn Drive ,Suite 320, Liberty. Contact her at 330-759-0707 or by email to reflexive101@gmail.com.

Alschuler is an assistant professor of social work at Youngstown State University, where she was hired last fall. Alschuler also is a published poet and fiction writer; she’s among writers featured in an anthology, “Lock and Load,” contemporary fiction featuring guns.

She’s well-prepared for her areas of endeavors; she earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University; has master’s degrees in counseling and organizational psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University, where she also earned a master of fine arts; and holds a master of social work degree from Fordham University. Alschuler has a doctorate in education and leadership from Barry University.

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