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The Writing Cure: Poetry As a Tool for Self-Expression

The release of inner feelings is a well-documented therapy and language is one our best tools for self-expression. So why not get some use out of this tool? Think of the blank page as an on-call therapist. The great poet Maya Angelou warns, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Remember the vortex we were talking about? This is it. That far-reaching orbit of yours will start to close in. First with reading, then with writing, and soon you’ll be wearing black like the rest of us, but somehow feeling better, more whole.

Stephanie Dowrick, a best-selling Australian author and psychotherapist, describes writing, particularly journal writing, as a way to savor your life. Dowrick says writing can “create a most interesting distance between you and your thoughts,” allowing you to gain perspective on your life, much like Pearson and Marr’s archetypal studies. In her book Creative Journal Writing, Dowrick constructs a detailed guide to writing as a way to simultaneously promote your own wellbeing and connection to the world.

Reading and writing are solitary practices, so experiment! No one will be the wiser. Mary Oliver, the beloved poet who kicked off this article, reminds us in her book, A Poetry Handbook: A prose guide to understanding and writing poetry, that all artists must allow themselves to practice. Think of a painting class. The self-portrait assignment is not meant to be hung in a museum. So let yourself practice. This first thing you write doesn’t have to instantly change the world.

Tips for Writing for Self-Expression

If you are new to this type of writing, here are some guidelines to get you started.

  • Pick a topic, an issue, a feeling or a word that interests you and that you want to explore a bit more.
  • Find some sites that have poems about this topic. One of the best resources, again, is Under “Poets & Poetry” at the top left, if you scroll over poems you’ll see a list of topics pop up.
  • Think about what line or part of the poem affected you most and why.
  • Write one line of your own. Sit with it a bit and let the line evolve until it is a mirror for what you want to say. See if this line grows into a few more as you work to express yourself. Chances are you will feel some degree of clarity, a sense of expression as you do this.

Since poetry involves the courage to share, consider sharing just one line of your work. As Bob Dylan has said:

“The highest purpose
of art is to inspire.
What else can you do?*

*This article is written in an ancient Japanese form called haibun that intertwines prose and haiku (haikus are 3 line poems following a 5-7-5 syllable count). A poet-monk named Matsuo Bashō created the haibun in the 17th century. See, you just learned a little more about poetry and it didn’t hurt a bit.

Devon Tomasulo is a recent graduate of Pacific University’s MFA program in Forest Grove, OR. She currently resides in New Jersey and works for a non-profit literacy organization.

Daniel J. Tomasulo, Ph.D., MFA is a licensed psychologist specializing in group psychotherapy and psychodrama, and author of the new book, Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist’s Memoir. Visit for more information.

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The Writing Cure: Poetry As a Tool for Self-Expression

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Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). The Writing Cure: Poetry As a Tool for Self-Expression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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