Tag Archives: thoughts

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 inspiring poetryExample:

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.

Poetry book and notebookInstructions: 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


Holiday Journaling

holiday bannerJournaling About Your Holidays

Who has time, one might remark, to journal during the mad rush of Holiday week? Who has energy left after Hanukkah preparations to sit down and write anything at all, let alone something meaningful. The entire family just left following Kwanzaa celebrations and you are exhausted. And now you are supposed to write about it? Get real people.

John Liptak, EdD, and Ester Leutenberg have written extensively about the benefits of journaling in many of their mental health resources. In the Communications Skills Workbook they say: Communication Skills Workbook

Journaling is an extremely powerful tool for enhancing self-discovery, learning, transcending traditional problems, breaking ineffective life and career habits, and helping to heal from psychological traumas of the past. From a physical point of view, writing reduces stress and lowers muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate levels. Psychologically, writing reduces sadness, depression and general anxiety, and leads to a greater level of life satisfaction and optimism. Behaviorally, writing leads to enhanced social skills, emotional intelligence and creativity.


Charles Dickens at work.

Charles Dickens at work

No where in the quote above does it suggest that we must write perfectly…express ourselves just right. Sometimes the problem with writing in our journal isn’t so much the actual writing once we settle down with pen and paper, it is the idea that we have to be a cross between Shakespeare, Emerson, and Dickens.

What we feel like is Pooh, that bear of very little brain, said, “For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.”  (Thank you A.A. Milne.) No one cares if your longest word is five letters! Perhaps we feel, as Pooh did that, “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” We are embarrassed to write our thoughts, feeling that they will express our shallowness or silliness or weakness or whatever. What we forget is that our journal is for one person only…the writer. In fact, I have a note pinned to mine that asks my survivors to burn my journal without reading it. I have made my kids swear that they will do so. I don’t want to censor what I write. If I am unhappy with one of my children I want to be able to write it without fear of hurting their feelings later.



So write, fellow bloggers, write without fear. Write to clear your mind, to see your position about something more clearly, to unburden yourself, to express your love, to create a plan, to simply enjoy the flow of words from your pen (or fingers if you journal on your computer.) You never know when something of great depth or value will pour forth.

I have a friend who teaches high school history to home schooled kids. Their assignment was to write a journal entry which, contrary to our personal journaling, would be reviewed by their instructor. This student chose to write a psalm. I think you’ll enjoy it, courtesy of Brianna Ankrum and reproduced here with her permission.


Psalm of Praise

Even when I wander, looking for love somewhere else, leaving you to sit all alone on a street corner with nothing but the light post to keep You company, you still love me. Even when I mock you, saying mean things behind your back, false things that I know aren’t true, but I lie just to look good, you still love me. Even when I mess up, failing and failing and never succeeding you reach out your hand to come and save me from my self. Even when life gets hard and all I want is to lie my head down and drown in the waters that life drags me towards, You set up anchor and gently steady my boat. Even when I feel so unworthy of your love and the joy it brings me, You still deliver and every time. You never seem to fail me.

Oh why do I do these things when I know you’ll never leave? When I know your love is never failing? When I know that I can’t live on my own and I need You to be truly free? That you’ll come to me in a storm and protect me from all the hurts and damages from life? Is it because I realize how powerful you are and it scares me?

All these questions that fly through my mind, making me go dizzy over how amazing you are. It scares me, but yet calms me. How can a God so big and huge love little old me? That’s something that I know only you can answer. I know you created me for a purpose and when I fail you’ll always be there to catch me and hold me with arms open so wide. I stand in awe and amazement of You.

Not all of us are eloquent when we write. It doesn’t matter. Write for yourself, for the release journaling can give, for the perspective it can bring.

May your holidays be filled with Joy and Love.

Blue trees