Poetry informed psychotherapy


davidwhyteDoes poetry have any place in this era of “evidenced-based” psychotherapy? Of course it does. I’ve been listening to an audio program by David Whyte every morning for the last few days. David is doing a keynote address and a pre-conference seminar at the 19th International Energy Psychology Conference. May 18-22, 2017 in San Antonio.

I recently sent this quote from Whyte to a friend of mine.

“What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.”

Let that sentence linger in your mind. Does it not take you on journey? Ideas like this are common in Whyte’s work. During three different sessions last week that quote became directly relevant to what a client was saying. So I told the quote to each client. A depth of silence descended on the room. A level of intrapersonal and interpersonal intimacy emerged. And a deeper conversation ensued.

The modern world seduces us away from our inner world – our connection to our selves. Poets and authors like David Whyte or John O’ Donahue help to reverse that trend. Perhaps I should have used the term: “the poetry informed psychotherapist”, because we have to be moved by the ideas, images and experiences that flow from poetry and  prose. Only after we have been moved can we recognize a fecund moment in the session where a line from a poem or a song might take root.

In many ways psychotherapy is an act of bravery. It is not easy facing your self or differentiating from a disturbed family. Sometimes people are taken over by fear and lose connection with the better parts of themselves. How do we help them?  Sometimes people need to be inspired to overcome fear or anger.

Words can matter. This is where poetry, philosophy and story can become sources of inspiration, which means to put Spirit inside. “Evidenced-based” paint-by-number therapy just can’t do this.

So how does one do poetry informed psychotherapy?

Step 1: Read or listen to someone like David Whyte. (By the way, listening is so much better than reading.) Allow yourself to be moved and inspired. Maybe write down some of the words that move you.

Step 2: Listen to your inner self during your sessions. Your clients will call forth what is needed.

Step 3: Share with them the words that are called forth.

I’m so excited that David Whyte is also offering a pre-conference intensive on May 18. It’s a very rare opportunity to get to spend all day with him. If you want to inspire the poetic inside of yourself so that you may be better able to inspire others, this is where you need to be. Learn more at the 19th International Energy Psychology Conference website.

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP
ACEP Executive Director


  1. I now do Saturday Sonnets instead of posting regular pieces to my blog. Thank you for presenting what I knew to be true.

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