The Healing Power of Poetry: By Dr. Nick Mazza

Author: Nick Mazza is a Professor and Dean Emeritus at Florida State University, College of Social Work and has been involved in the practice, research, and teaching of poetry therapy for over 45 years. 

What exactly is poetry therapy? 

Poetry therapy is one of the rapidly developing creative (expressive) arts therapies. Formal recognition of poetry therapy was evolving with the establishment of the Association for Poetry Therapy (APT) in 1969. Beginning in 1971, annual conferences were held in New York. In 1981, the APT became formally incorporated as the National Association for Poetry Therapy. Since that time, annual conferences have been held at sites across the United States. The broad base of poetry therapy has evolved through the study of the of the poetic practice approaches in a wide range of settings. 

Poetry therapy is much more than just the focus on the genre of poetry; it is the use of language, symbol, and story in therapeutic, educational, growth, and community-building capacities.  Poetry therapy has emerged as an independent field that is inclusive of bibliotherapy, narrative therapy, expressive writing, and journal therapy (all of which maintain their own independent field of study and practice). 

Journal of Poetry Therapy 

The first issue of the Journal of Poetry Therapy was published 1987, and 31 years later it is still going strong (published by Routledge/Taylor& Francis). The quarterly journal is important because in large part the measure and reputation of a discipline, method, or field is determined by its scholarship.

JPT offers a range of balanced scholarship including qualitative and quantitative research, practice reports, theoretical and philosophical inquiries,  book reviews,  a dissertation abstracts column, and original poetry. JPT is abstracted in major databases including PsycINFO (American Psychological Association), Google Scholar, and the MLA (Modern Language Association). Of particular note is the extensive number of articles published in JPT by authors across the globe.

Poetry Therapy Model

Poetry Therapy is a comprehensive text offering a fully integrated practice/research model of poetry therapy. The RES model first introduced in my 1999 book and further supported with research and practice examples in the second edition covers the full range of poetry therapy with three specific components that could be used independently, conjointly, and/or in and interactive manner.

In a nutshell, The Receptive/ Prescriptive(R) component focuses on the introduction of a poem (or short literary piece, song lyric, etc) into the practice setting and inviting reactions/discussion. The Expressive/Creative component focuses on the use of expressive writing (e.g., client writing own poem, journal, story, etc). The Symbolic/Ceremonial component focuses of the use of symbols, ceremonies, and metaphors to facilitate growth and healing. Of course any and all of the methods should have a professional purpose, used by a qualified person within his/her discipline, and requires caution.

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Sources Cited:

Mazza, N. (2017). Poetry therapy: Theory and practice, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge

Dr. Nicholas Mazza

Nick Mazza is Professor and Dean Emeritus at the Florida State University, College of Social Work. Nick, a marathon runner, holds Florida licenses in psychology, clinical social work, and marriage and family therapy. He has been involved in the practice, research, and teaching of poetry therapy for over 45 years. Dr. Mazza is the author of Poetry Therapy: Theory and Practice; and Editor of the series, Expressive Therapies. Nick is the newly elected president of NAPT (2018-2020). In 2017, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from NAPT.

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