The Healing Power of Poetry

Why poetry is good for our mental health.

By Google Arts & Culture

SocialWorks & Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab

Young People Creating Art (2020-09-23) by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary ArtArts Council England

The Comfort of Words

Poetry can provide comfort and boost mood during periods of stress, trauma and grief. Its powerful combination of words, metaphor and meter help us better express ourselves and make sense of the world and our place in it.

Different research studies have found evidence that writing or reading poetry can be therapeutic for both patients dealing with illness and adversity as well as their caregivers.

Entering (2017) by Monica Defendi and Alex DesebrockMuseum of Freedom and Tolerance

A 2021 study of hospitalized children found that providing opportunities for them to read and write poetry reduced their fear, sadness, anger, worry, and fatigue.

Breath of Life (1994) by Bang, Hai JaKorean Art Museum Association

Other studies found that poetry therapy with a certified therapist helped cancer patients improve emotional resilience, alleviate anxiety levels and improve their quality of life.

Skukura Murray, Foundation Doctor (2020) by Katharine RowePaintings in Hospitals

A systematic review published in 2019 found that poetry can help healthcare workers combat burnout and increase empathy for patients, giving the frontlines another arts-based tool to turn to during the pandemic and beyond.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe Friday Night Slam 2010sNuyorican Poets Cafe

Rhyme, Rhythm and Metaphor

Our brains are highly attuned to rhyme and rhythm, and these elements intensify our emotional responses, be it joy or sadness, to poetry. And like music, poetry can give us the chills, producing literal goosebumps with a good stanza. 

Words Unspoken (2020) by Ruolan JinThe University of Edinburgh

In times of trauma, our language centers may go offline, making it difficult to fully express ourselves. By activating a different part of the brain through metaphor, reading or listening to poetry may help us find our voice once again.

“Our voices are embodiments of ourselves, whether written or spoken. It is in times of extremity that we long to find words or hear another human voice letting us know we are not alone.”

- UCLA psychiatrist and poetry therapist Robert Carroll

Poem: The Garden (1915) by Vita Sackville-WestGarden Museum

Learn More

Discover how you can use poetry to support your mental health. Read the full article and find additional resources here.

Interested in learning how listening to music can help you cope with difficult times? Read another article by Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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