Poetry Therapy for Skin Picking
When you think about skin picking, poetry is probably not the first thing you think of. However, poetry and other forms of writing have long been used in the therapeutic process. But just what is poetry therapy and how can it help with skin picking? In a new Skinpick.com webinar, Laura Santner, LCSW, and Registered Poetry Therapist, takes a closer look at poetry and demonstrates how it can be a powerful tool as part of the treatment process for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) like skin picking.
What Is Poetry Therapy?
Defining poetry is like defining beauty – it’s in the eye of the beholder. Poetry can be many things and hold many meanings for people. In general, poetry, like other forms of writing, is a way of using words to creatively express thoughts and feelings, fashioning them in ways that bring them forward to be explored and released. Both reading and writing poetry can be quite pleasing and, in some cases, even therapeutic.
Poetry therapy is a form of bibliotherapy that uses poetry to aid in the treatment process. Some of the goals and benefits of including poetry therapy can include:
- Increasing cognitive and emotional awareness
- Improving problem-solving, decision-making, and coping skills
- Integration of the self and experiences
- Improving reality orientation and repairing distorted thinking patterns
- Validation of feelings, experiences, sense of self and identity
- Improving communication skills and connections with others
- Stress reduction
- Improving emotional equilibrium
The use of books and other forms of written words in therapy is not a new strategy. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient times when shamans and witch doctors would chant poetry for the well-being of their community. The first documented Poetry Therapist was the Roman physician, Solanus. He used poetry as a tool for treating his depressed patients.
Today, poetry therapy is often used as part of a person’s treatment and has been shown to enhance feelings of well-being and help improve symptoms for many mental health issues. In the webinar, Dr. Santner shares the RES (Receptive-Expressive-Symbolic) Model of poetry therapy and how that is applied to practice and how to apply it to treating BFRBs.
Using Poetry Therapy for BFRBs
Part of working through a mental health issue is dealing with emotions and issues, gaining understanding, and finding new ways of coping. Poetry therapy can be a powerful way to get in touch with thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be difficult to talk about. Guilt and shame are common with skin picking. Using a tool like poetry or writing may provide a pathway for talking about the things that are hard to verbalize.
Dr. Santner notes that while poetry therapy is often used as part of therapy, it is also something you can use on your own too.
- The first step is to pick a piece of poetry. She suggests picking something that speaks to you or reflects something that you’re going through in the moment. Some examples might include anxiety, depression, guilt/shame, body image, acceptance, emotional regulation, self-esteem, or connecting with others. The possibilities are endless. You can find lots of poetry sites on the internet, or you may already have some favorites. Having trouble choosing? Dr. Santner provides a list of topics that might help you with some of the issues that skin picking can bring.
- What’s your objective? How are you going to use the piece you’ve chosen? You may be using poetry as part of treatment, or you may be trying it out on your own. Your plan will guide how you use your chosen piece of poetry.
- Read your chosen piece. Dr. Santner suggests initially reading the piece both silently and aloud.
- Explore your reactions and insights that may arise. You might explore verbally with others, or you may engage in written exploration. Be mindful of what comes up for you. What feelings and insights emerge?
- Examine your personal responses. This process encourages understanding, growth and healing.
If you’re not sure how to get started, Dr. Santner takes you through several example poems and opportunities for practice during the webinar. She also offers a tool known as an acrostic to help you in your practice.
An acrostic is a prompt that consists of a word written down the side of your page. For example, Dr. Santner used the word F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S. You then use each letter to prompt a word or sentence. There’s no right or wrong. It’s simply what you are thinking or feeling in the moment. When you’re done, you can reflect on what you’ve written.
There is no time limit for your writing or reading. You may write for 5 minutes, 10 or more. It’s up to you to write in the way that is comfortable for you. Sometimes those feelings might be really big and take you in directions you didn’t expect. Take time to explore your reactions. What meaning does that emotion hold for you? What are you learning?
Whether you’re working alone or as part of a therapy group, Dr. Santner recommends bringing your time to a close. She shared a number of examples of how you might do that. Here’s one:
- Thank your emotion for coming up. What did it teach you?
- Reflect on what you learned from it.
- What will you remind yourself of the next time the emotion comes to visit?
Poetry therapy is a creative way to enhance your treatment for skin picking and gain insights that may bring you to new ways of coping and healing. To learn more about poetry therapy, you can visit www.poetrytherapy.org
1. Poetry Therapy & Skin Picking [Video]. (2023, February 16). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93ouuuQIEGI
2. History. (n.d.). National Association for Poetry Therapy. https://poetrytherapy.org/History
3. Villines, Z. (2020, November 2). Poetry therapy: Definition, psychology, and more. Medical and health information. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/poetry-therapy#benefits