Poetry For Your Brain

the science

All Credit to Original Source

Talk Therapy

Talk Therapy is the many-times proven way to help all those in need. It allows for an understanding between you and who you talk with. In this instance, you can talk to yourself. The words on the page are your words, and what they mean to others isn’t what they mean to you. A conversation isn’t the same between one person to another. The same goes for writing a word; a word has one meaning and you give it another, almost subconsciously. As put by Linda Andrews, “The use of metaphor and imagery may help the writer give voice to emotional undertones that would otherwise be hard to put into words.” When a situation arises that is explainable or difficult in general to comprehend, extended metaphors, emotional allegory, or personal connections can heighten the emotional stability.

Linda Andrews also says, “Therapists use poetry reading or writing to facilitate healing or promote personal growth in their clients. We have a long tradition of viewing poetry writing as a healthy mode of self-expression and a useful adjunct to mental health treatment.” Poetry in and of itself is an established helpful factor in breaking down mental illnesses and fighting back against them.

CBT (Cognitive Brain Therapy) is a specific type of talk therapy focusing on how people respond to their thoughts. A study performed by King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, CBT benefits people who have psychotic symptoms, like schizophrenia or PTSD. The therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT can be done with the pen on paper, writing about and pseudo-training your brain to alter its thinking and behavior to something more positive.

While doing research, I came across a term called “Confessional Poetry” (I’m sorry 21st Century teachers, the citation for this paragraph is a Wikipedia page) that seems to fit in with the poetry that I write and the type that I promote. Simply put, it’s writing about social taboos, namely mental illness, sex, or suicide. I myself namely fit into the mental illness category with occasion branches into suicide, however this style of poetry can be used “beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment” (Rosenthal) to express oneself, to oneself. This ties in with the earlier statement of talk therapy. Talk about it with yourself, benefit yourself.

Levy, Raymond A. “Talk Therapy: Off the Couch and into the Lab.” Scientific American, 23 Feb. 2010, www.scientificamerican.com/article/talk-therapy-off-couch-into-lab/.

“Talking Therapy Changes the Brain's Wiring, Study Reveals for First Time.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 17 Jan. 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170117101436.htm.

“Will a Poem a Day Keep the Doctor Away?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201101/will-poem-day-keep-the-doctor-away.

“Confessional Poetry.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessional_poetry.


This is your brain with depression. Similarly, Anxiety in your brain can be shown in this scan, a important new discovery that will allow scientist diagnose anxiety-related conditions, and treat them.

The size of the striatum, a part of the brain, is connected to uncertainty and intolerance. "The larger the striatum,” study author Justin Kim of Dartmouth College states, “will worry more about the future. People who had difficulty tolerating an uncertain future had a relatively enlarged striatum. What surprised us was that it was only the striatum and not other parts of the brain we examined." Similarly, those who struggle with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) have an enlarged striatum.

However, according to the study author, it doesn’t necessarily mean anxiety. On the flip side, it is suggested that monitoring it and keeping track of its signs will lead to an increased chance of identifying and targeting general anxiety disorders or OCD.

When writing your own poetry, your brain has the largest response. The words you chose to use, to interpret, and to give meaning to will have a much more heightened effect on your emotional state. In a study done by Eugen Wassiliwizky, Stefan Koelsch, Valentin Wagner, Thomas Jacobsen, and Winfried Menninghaus, the subjects of the experience were given a choice between a poem chosen by an experimenter, or something of their choosing. They said this about the subject: “Our stimulus set comprised two subsets of poems—experimenter-selected vs self-selected—which allowed us to compare psychophysiological responses to relatively unfamiliar stimuli with responses to highly familiar stimuli. The latter have been argued to elicit maximal responses due to their perfect match with individual preferences.” In the study, instead of writing their own poem, the subjects chose out of given ones. If the results were as significant given a marginal choice, the chance of even more of a significant effect is completely within the realm of possibility.

“PET Scan of the Brain for Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/multimedia/-pet-scan-of-the-brain-for-depression/img-20007400.

Dallas, Mary Elizabeth. “Brain Scans Spot Where Fear and Anxiety Live.” Stroke Center - EverydayHealth.com, Ziff Davis, LLC, 18 May 2017, www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety-disorders/brain-scans-spot-where-fear-anxiety-live/.

American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/05/uncertain-future.aspx.

Wassiliwizky, et al. “Emotional Power of Poetry: Neural Circuitry, Psychophysiology and Compositional Principles.” OUP Academic, Oxford Academic, 28 Apr. 2017, academic.oup.com/scan/article/12/8/1229/3778354.

-Healthy Coping

-Healthy coping applies to everything. It can be a traumatic event, it can be a reoccurring issue, or it can just be a constant in life that people need help dealing with. I, Alex, was in this exact situation. I didn’t know how to deal with everything, and it was super overwhelming. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone, that I’d be judged, laughed at, a thousand things that probably would not have happened but because that’s what I believed would happen, I didn’t get help. It wasn’t until I stumbled along poetry, a discovery I made because my friends around me were talking about it.

This changed the way I was able to deal with my depression and anxiety overall. I was able to open up about it, talk to people about it, even make jokes about it. If you can make jokes about it then it has improved tons. And overall, it made me more secure that if something happens, something that hits me hard, I can always turn to writing to help me. I’ve always loved writing (I wrote a “book” in 6th/7th grade that has around 200 pages; it was absolutely terrible but a boy can dream) and have always loved poetry, yet until recently wasn’t writing it. Suffice to say, without discovering the benefits of writing poetry, I would have been in a much worse place than I am today.

Scientifically, an article on journaling explains that writing about yourself can provide you with a “helpful tool in managing your mental health”. It can help deal with anxiety, reduce stress, and fight depression. Journaling is just as similar to poetry as a tangerine and an orange. You can open up to yourself before anyone else, and better to yourself than anyone else. It can order your fears, concerns, and worries to a manageable proportion, help you recognize symptoms that reoccur on a daily basis and identify them, and give yourself an opportunity for a positive self talk, and get rid of your negative sides and views of yourself. You don’t have a set style, a set skill level, or a set type you have to write about, as long as it benefits you. Skill doesn’t matter, as doesn’t formatting. What helps you, helps you.

According to the author of this article, Dennis Relojo, “Better memory, a more restful sleep, and a more positive outlook in life – the benefits of expressive writing can go far beyond these because we can gain more from writing than we actually realize… Writing is a personal and universal act where we convey our thoughts into a paper. ” Expressive writing is widely considered a form of therapy, and in spite of volumes of studies, not one has pin pointed the exact reason. Two common explanations are that writing is an outlet for emotions, especially for emotions that are difficult to express in reality. Similarly, writing can give us more of a meaning and explanation for events that happen in our life.

It’s something that can help those who struggle, struggle less.

“Journaling for Mental Health.” Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center, www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1.

Relojo, Dennis. “Coping Through Expressive Writing.” Psychreg, 9 May 2018, www.psychreg.org/coping-expressive-writing/.