Professor's book on poetry therapy releases in the UK
When her contemporaries cited a need for a primer of poetry therapy in the U.K., Geri Chavis, Ph.D., a professor of English at St. Catherine University, answered the call.
Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression, a resource handbook authored by Chavis, was released Feb. 15 in the United Kingdom. The book is a part of the Writing for Therapy and Personal Development Series, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Groundwork in poetry therapy
Poetry therapy, sometimes called “bibliotherapy,” is the practice of using poems, stories or other types of creative expression to promote healing. The concept has been developed over many years on the campus of St. Catherine University through Chavis’ work and through collaboration with others in the field.
Since she began teaching at St. Catherine University in 1977, Chavis has been building on the body of work that uses literature for healing. She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English literature and language from Syracuse University, as well an M.A. in counseling psychology from the University of St. Thomas.
“I had the interest in literature for growth and healing when I first came here 34 years ago,” said Chavis. “I actually brought it with me.”
Chavis credits the late Sister Arleen Hynes – who studied at St. Catherine University – with laying the foundations for the field, calling her the “grandmother” of poetry therapy. Hynes, together with her daughter Mary Hynes-Berry, wrote Biblio-Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process: A Handbook, in 1994. After the release of the text, Chavis worked side by side with Hynes to develop the concept of poetry therapy until Hynes’ death in 2006.
A contemporary resource
Now, Chavis is offering an updated guide to poetry therapy—including suggestions for selecting poems and a guide to ethics—to those caretakers who are actually working in the field.
“The target audience of the book are helpers—anyone from a wide variety of fields who can see the possibilities of using literature or creative expression with the individuals or the groups they’re working with,” said Chavis. “This is a place to go to find lots of ideas in how you can be using poetry, story, creative expression.”
Her hope is that the handbook will be used in psychotherapy groups, community-based groups and educational circles, as well as therapeutic settings. In the introduction to the book, Chavis names medical and mental health professionals, educators, clergy, life coaches and students in helping professions as her audience. However, she said the sky is the limit. She would love to see the book used in rehabilitation, in homeless shelters, or even in writing classes offered within prison walls.
The work draws from experiences Chavis has encountered as a teacher, as well as drawing from the wisdom of professionals working in the field, such as the members of the Minnesota Poetry Therapy Network.
“For years, I’ve been collecting what I feel are good meaty stories that are about people and their lives and their dilemmas,” said Chavis. “So, when I describe some of these stories, I think it’s pretty evocative, and I hope it will whet people’s appetite.”
A fruitful career
Chavis has edited two books previous to this release, “Family: Stories from the Interior” and “The Healing Fountain: Poetry Therapy for Life’s Journey,” which she co-edited with Lila Weisberger. However, the new release is the first book she has penned.
“This book brings together my whole career, it brings together all the strains of what I’ve been doing all these years, “ said Chavis. She said the work not only brings together her experience in teaching and her knowledge of literature, poetry and personal stories, but it also brings in expertise from her private practice as a licensed psychologist.
Chavis teaches poetry therapy to both undergraduate and graduate students at St. Catherine University in a course that is cross-listed between English and Holistic Health Studies. The course, called Literature for Growth and Healing, is geared toward students who are interested in exploring the power of fiction, poetry and creative writing, and how it can be used in therapy.
“It has stayed kind of a small movement,” said Chavis. “And yet there are so many people out there who have actually experienced the power of this without knowing there is a field and there is a body of work, but that’s part of why it is so much fun.”
Chavis’ new book, Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression, will be released in the U.S. on March 15. She will be speaking during Careers in Aging Week at St. Catherine University, in a combined workshop and poetry reading scheduled during the evening of April 14. Chavis also plans to travel to England, Ireland and Scotland this summer and facilitate workshops in Glascow, The Midlands and London.