TPC Poetry Group: Healing Through the Written Word

Posted: Tuesday, May 08, 2018

“Here’s a good one - write about one of your phobias.” It’s the beginning of TPC’s weekly poetry group, and clinician Erika Berrio is listing off possible topics for the group poem, in which participants write a few lines each on the topic and pass it along to the next person. “We’ll read the final product at the end of group,” she says.

Berrio, who has worked on TPC Community Support Team 1F for four years, started the group about a year ago as a therapeutic way to help clients find their creative voice. “We’ve had multiple art groups over the years, but I had heard from some clients that writing is the way they prefer to express themselves,” said Berrio. The group is open to all TPC clients, and Berrio estimates that about 20 people have participated since the group started.

“I’ve found that many of the clients we serve have a significant interest in literature, and are very well-versed in the classics,” said Berrio. Favorite poems often relate to nature, including the works of Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, and Mary Oliver.

The goal for each session is for everyone to write a piece to be shared with the group. This week, to help the creative flow, she passes out a few printouts of paintings by Vietnamese artist Duy Huynh. She also throws out a suggestion: “write about not letting our diagnoses define us.” Participants can write about any of the given topics, or anything that may be moving them that day.

Berrio notes that writing has been used as a therapeutic tool for hundreds of years, and tries to incorporate elements of members’ treatment programs into the curriculum. “I’ll often bring in themes relating to recognizing self-worth, tolerating stress, and dealing with feelings in healthy ways,” said Berrio.

She encourages group members to expand on their writing at home, and look for things that inspire them in their everyday life to write about. Some group members have built a lasting hobby, and a significant body of work. This week, one participant suggests attempting a sestina poem, which she read about in a book. She explains that it’s a non-rhyming, structured through a recurrent pattern of the words that end each line, a technique known as "lexical repetition."

Much of the group is spent in silence, with the participants thinking and writing diligently.

Toward the end, they go around the room, sharing what they’ve come up with. One group member takes inspiration from the painting. “We prey on the people places and things, so empty we lie, as the pendulum swings/trust is the issue that fights in our head, so focused our tissue it’s the lies that we dread.”

A woman writes about her illness not defining her, and her difficult childhood. “So many people are quick to judge, I was one of those people/until I got the news: there’s something wrong with me/oh no. Me? How can that be?”

Group concludes with the reading of the group poem – everyone agrees that this week’s is a good one.

Berrio enjoys teaching people that there’s no wrong way to start writing, and loves to see the confidence built by the power of self-expression. “People will say to me, ‘I can’t believe I wrote this – it sounds like a professional!’”

Pictured: TPC clinician Erika Berrio