Tag Archives: feelings

Using Poetry to Explore Thoughts and Feelings

Creating a Healthy Balanced Life WorkbookPoetry exercises excerpted from Creating a Healthy Balanced Life

By Sandra K. Negley, MTRS, CTRS and Ester Leutenberg

Looking for an interesting way to lead your clients as they explore their thoughts and feelings? Something different and introspective? Try poetry.

Poetic Thoughts and Feelings – exploring through poetry

One creative way to explore thoughts and feelings is through the writing of poetry. Don’t worry, this does not mean a person has to be a great poet or writer to have fun with this unique and ancient art form. The key is to be open, enjoy, explore, and look soulfully at one’s deeper thoughts and feelings. Writing poetry can assist a person to focus thoughts, stop circular thinking, and begin to look at life from a different perspective. A variety of creative writing techniques will work with most people and most ages; here are four styles to initiate participants’ creative thinking.

Technique #1

Haiku is a unique ancient Japanese style of writing that uses 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.


River flows gently

Water moves sand and rock

Forgiveness begins

Technique #2

Five-line poetry while similar to Haiku is less restrictive and for some allows a more creative exploration.

Title of Topic (1-word) Describe Topic (2 words) Action Occurring (3-words) Feelings—how it makes you feel (4-words) Summary (1-word)



Honesty, acceptance

Evolving through time

Creating more fulfilled experiences


Technique #3

Pass Around Poem

A fun exercise in poetry writing can come from a less threatening approach that lends itself to creative and critical thought. This opens the door for participants to have interesting and inquisitive discussions on the coincidences in life.

Instructions: Distribute one poetry book, a pen, and one piece of paper to each participant. Instruct participants that when you say, “start” they will follow this process:

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Open the book
  3. Place one finger on a spot in the book
  4. Open your eyes
  5. Write a line of poetry from where your finger landed (one line)
  6. Give participants an example

The facilitator gives participants 30 seconds and then says “pass.” Participants will pass their book to the right and repeat the process. The number of lines of the poem will be determined by the number of participants. (Keep in mind some people may need more time than others, waiting can be unsettling and/or break the magic with boredom. Consider facilitating with smaller groups.)


Technique #4

An I Am Poem can be used as an introspective exercise for participants to increase self-awareness while also connecting with other members of the group. The I Am Poem is a creative way to also teach and explore current issues, science, art, and conceptual thoughts. There are two ways to approach this form of writing:

Form One — Instruct the participants that to write this poem only requires one instruction; each line of the poem must start with “I am . . .” The poem can be as long as they choose and reflect as much about themselves as they would like to share. The poem may include such things as gender, ethnicity, interests, family traditions, mottos, memories, or future goals. Encourage participants to be creative in defining who they are and how they express themselves. Remind them that it does not have to rhyme.

Example Format:

I am a woman

I am multidimensional

I am strong and industrious

I am vulnerable and emotional

I am an advocate for individuals with disabilities

I am a listener

I am a mother, grandmother, teacher, friend

I am a woman

Form Two — This poem follows a more directed and structured format. Begin with the I am statement — two characteristics of the person. This statement can be repeated throughout the poem as a line opener and then repeated as the last line of the poem. The writer can have as many stanzas to their poem as they choose. As the facilitator, you can prepare a format for participants or you can list a variety of suggestions and let participants develop their own format.

Example Format:

I am (characteristics of the person)

I wonder (something the person or thing could think or be curious about)

I hear

I see

I dream

I am (If you wish repeat first line of the poem, every 4-5 statements)

I fear

I love

I understand

I hope

I am (end poem with this line)

Additional Suggestions

I care                     I feel                      I want                     I touch

I pretend               I respect                I cry                       I laugh

I worry                   I unfold                  I release               I forgive

I say                        I hope                    I honor

Journaling through the grief

Journaling has been such a valuable tool for me in my process of grieving over our son Mitchell’s death by suicide. I journal for my own pleasure, release, sorting-out of feelings. If every time I had another insight or thought about Mitch’s life, mental illness, or death – and would mention it to loved ones or friends – they would all be weary of hearing about it. Instead, I journal often and still talk about Mitch at times with family and friends. It seems to be a good compromise, and keeps me grounded.

Each year I take my journaling to another level – on the day of Mitch’s death and send an email out to everyone I know – this was my 2011 letter.

Dear family and friends,

Twenty five years ago today, November 22, 1986, at 30 years of age, our son died by suicide. We commemorate this day – we celebrate Mitchell’s life. Mitch was an exceptional son, grandson, brother and uncle.

For eight years we kept the promise Mitchell asked of us, from the time of his first suicide attempt, not to tell anyone he had a mental illness. He felt it was a ‘shonda’ – a shame, an embarrassment, people wouldn’t value him for who he was, only the see the mental illness. The moment Mitch died, we told anyone and everyone. We were not ashamed or embarrassed. He had a disease, a mental illness. Although Mitchell did not discuss it, we hope other people will as the stigma of mental illness slowly lifts.

To quote Glenn Close about her family members…

“The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho.”

Even as the medicine and therapy for mental health disorders have made remarkable progress, the ancient social stigma of psychological illness remains largely intact. Families are often unwilling to talk about it and, in movies and the media, stereotypes about the mentally ill still reign.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability. Every society will have to confront the issue. The question is, will we face it with open honesty or silence?”

I remember when my mother would whisper the word cancer. We’ve come a long way. Talking and dealing with mental illness should be no different from having cancer, diabetes or any other disease.

“We have to get the word out that mental illness can be diagnosed and treated, and almost everyone suffering from mental illness can live more normal lives.”
~ Rosalynn Carter

Twenty-five years is such a long time! We miss the hugs, conversations, laughter and even the tears. We miss the family time with him – he SO loved his family (especially his two nieces!) . Mitchell would have loved the 7 more nieces and nephews that were born after his death. He would have loved Tucson and would be so happy for us. At one point, a few years before he died, he visited Vermont and came home with plans to build homes for our entire family to vacation together.

We do know that Mitch looks after us. We feel his spirit and it warms us.

We think about him every day – with love – and with admiration for trying so hard to stay alive.

Ester and Jay Leutenberg

Ester A. Leutenberg has worked in the mental health profession for many years as an author, publisher and as an advocate for those suffering from loss.