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Poetry as a healing path in medicine

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Molly Harrower, author of “The Therapy of Poetry,” wrote, “Poetry is ‘therapy’ and is part and parcel of normal development…. Long before there were therapists there were poets and from time immemorial man has struggled to cope with his inevitable inner turmoil. One way of so coping has been the ballad, the song, the poem. Once crystallized into words, all-engulfing feelings become manageable, and once challenged into explicitness, the burden of the incommunicable becomes less heavy. The very act of creating is a self-sustaining experience, and in the poetic moment the self becomes both the ministering ‘therapist’ and the comforted ‘patient.’”

Poetry has had a place in the healing of the mind and spirit for ages, but it is now making its way into the professional sphere of medicine which focuses on healing the body. Raphael Campo is a physician and a poet who requires his medical students to not only read, but to write poetry as a facet of their medical training. Campo believes that, in many respects, the humanity has been lost in the medical field and has created an undesirable distance between physician and patient. He holds that training in poetry can aid in decreasing the disconnect between a physician focusing solely on medical facts and the human truths in clinical situations. One technique physicians can utilize to stay in touch with these human truths is to listen to the language and metaphors used by their patients to describe their experiences while taking medical histories.

Following are two poems that were utilized in a major cancer hospital with patients by this writer. The metaphors and language used by patients was closely attended to and the emotional progression from the first to the second poem is strongly reminiscent of the Easter journey from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

The first piece was used with individuals undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It was written by Gordon Neumann on January 4, 2005, and is entitled “Tomb Time”.

Go to hell, sphere of fear

that surrounds the light within me.

I must retain my bravery

to unlearn

so I can truly know

the process of purification

dissolving everything but love

from my mind.

Go to healing, my heart,

my hurt is showing.

The ego has done its damage,

only the Spirit penetrating deeply

can be the medicine I need

in the form of mercy,

honing me to humility

to teach me

the beauty of the sky after the storm.

The second piece of poetry was written by a cancer survivor who remains anonymous.

The joy of being an explorer has returned.

In this journey, guided by love,

my spirit has traveled full circle

from light to darkness and back to light.

I’ve been able to grow quiet enough

to venture into the world again, enjoying life,

observing nature that I love so dearly,

making discoveries without dark shadows nearby.

As I began this journey, I did not know

that I could ever feel this way again,

that it was possible to travel a journey

that turned loss into celebration,

fear into love, and pain into grace.

In climbing the boulders, rock-solid ground

often crumbling, I found footholds and flowers

in the tiniest crevices, and clearings on high

through which I could see forever

and embrace Eternity.

Innocence lost,

freedom found,

I continue - - -

with joy intact.

For residents of Columbus, Georgia, who seek a spiritual community that actively encourages the merging of creative pursuits and healing of mind, body, and spirit, the following five Unity churches are within driving distance:

  1. Unity of Albany (GA) – approximately 75 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 178 Hugh Road, Leesburg, GA. Phone: (229) 435-1001.
  2. Unity of Montgomery (AL) Spiritual Center – approximately 77 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 1922 Walnut Street, Montgomery, AL 36106. Phone: (334) 263-1225.
  3. Unity Spiritual Life Center of Central Georgia - formerly Unity in the Heart of Georgia (Byron, GA) – approximately 78 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 127 Peachtree Parkway #701, Byron, GA. Phone: (478) 737-7537.
  4. Unity South Atlanta Church (Jonesboro, GA) – approximately 84 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 10 a.m. on Sundays is 7541 Mt. Zion Boulevard, Jonesboro, GA. Phone: (404) 578-3033.
  5. Unity of Dothan (AL) – approximately 90 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 942 South Oates, Dothan, AL 36301. Phone: (334) 794-2840.

Home Study Resources for Residents of Columbus, Georgia

Available related texts on Amazon include: (1) “Alternative Medicine” by Raphael Campo, MD ($15.45 in paperback; $9.99 for Kindle), and (2) “Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making” by John Fox ($14.88 in paperback).


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