Working Poetically in Therapy by Anita Jones

Working Poetically in Therapy

by Anita Jones


“And the future will be nothing less

than the flowering of our inwardness”

(Rainer Maria Rilke)


I have always valued the role of poetry in my life – its poignancy, truth, rawness and eloquence – carefully chosen imagery and pared-down words, the deliberate sounds and rhythm capturing the exquisite pathos of what it is to be human.  I ride on those words which capture the resonance of shared emotions, felt experience – held securely amidst the tides of melancholy, soar on the wellspring of joy and float upon all that lies in-between.  Poetry encapsulates the journey and I know that I am not alone. Indeed, Freud is reputed to have said “everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.”

Poetry became an important tool for self-care and self-expression throughout my training – personal and reflective but I now also use poetry in my work as a psycho-spiritual counsellor, encouraging my clients in their own expression of their own experience.  Lyrics and lines are quoted from David Bowie to Dietrich Bonhoeffer which not only open up the therapy to explore the personal significance of those remembered lines but they also deepen the ‘felt sense’ between us in the room, a shared moment of intimacy – the client, myself and the poet. 

In his book Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore however encourages us to find our own poetry, finding “unexpected pleasure in the aesthetics” of our own choice of words and imagery, providing further reflective insight and deepening our sense of Self within our own narratives.  Reframing our stories, refining the details, finding our own resonance – a dark beauty in the melancholy as well as in the lightness of joy.  There is poetry to be found digging in the depths of the earth as well as gazing at the beauty of its flowers.

However, the idea that we can work ‘poetically in therapy’ goes beyond well-chosen or remembered words and can, I feel, become a dynamic and creative process for us both: to hear the language, to feel the rhythm of the session, to be present to the emotions, allowing them to affect us both whilst I remain safely and mindfully rooted.

I am lucky. My counselling practice is based in my Garden Room at home, overlooking a garden planted with trees, flowers, herbs and more than the odd weed – crowded, mixed, intentionally organic – a metaphor of welcome and equality, I like to think.  There is a beautiful Red Kite too which swoops and calls outside the window… The garden changes of course, reflecting the cycle of flourish and slumber of the seasons.  Some clients notice the garden, some do not; some clients approve of my gardening ‘style’ and some do not, however I carry its natural rhythm into my work as a spiritual counsellor.  

The French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard talked about creating “felicitous space” – the idea of cultivating and deepening the poetic, the sacred, the warmth and safety within the intimacy of our inhabited space.  This space is truly felt; a visceral and phenomenological experience.  I like to think that my clients are ‘held’ therapeutically in the “felicitous space” of my Garden Room amidst the amateur triumph of the efforts of my sweet peas, the sound of the rain upon the roof or the wonder of the stars in the night sky.

Implicitly, I can be ‘a poet’ in the therapeutic relationship whilst subtly encouraging my client to do the same, providing the space, safety and the relationship to express, to create or just ‘be’.  I work fluidly, echoing the cadence of poetry, at times mindfully proactive in the relationship, being fully present ‘in the moment’ and honouring the client’s experience whilst at other times, I step back and allow the poignancy of the moment to have its own voice in the stillness which appears between us, aware that we are sharing its presence, but allowing the client to find its meaning, its own poetry, for themselves.

This work is ultimately a dance between two souls, a meeting in both therapy and in a deep spiritual connection – surely, this is poetry…


“Good poetry begins with

the lightest touch,

a breeze arriving from nowhere,

a whispered healing arrival,

a word in your ear,

a settling into things,

then like a hand in the dark

it arrests the whole body,

steeling you for revelation.”


The Lightest Touch

David Whyte