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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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