The potential of written and spoken word poetry to support meaning making and recovery for people who have experienced psychosis

Pearson, Mark (2023) The potential of written and spoken word poetry to support meaning making and recovery for people who have experienced psychosis. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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As a medium of communication, poetry can evoke, narrate, and translate lived experience into words. Although there is a body of research that has examined how poetry might be beneficial as an intervention for people with mental health problems, there remains a dearth of research exploring the therapeutic potential of poetry for people who have experienced psychosis. The biological paradigm of mental illness, which has traditionally orientated the treatment of psychosis is currently in a state of crisis, providing the opportunity for novel and potentially poetic alternative paradigms to emerge.


A conceptual review explored the relationship between poetry and psychosis in existing literature. This produced a conceptual framework, which was then developed empirically by undertaking narrative interviews with adults with lived experience of psychosis, who read and/or write poetry, and mental health practitioners who use poetry within their therapeutic practice. Nineteen participants were interviewed, sixteen people with lived experience of psychosis and three mental health poetry practitioners. All interviews were audio recorded and inductive Labovian narrative analysis was conducted on all transcripts. Empirical data was also produced, in the form of workshop notes, plans and outputs, through the development and delivery of a novel creative writing workshop series titled Surviving by Storytelling. The authors reflected on collected artefacts to describe the most critical concepts developed from these workshops. Poetry has also been used as a reflexive tool throughout all stages of the research.


The conceptual review proposed a relationship between poetry and psychosis consisting of three domains, psychotic language as meaningful poetics, poetry as an expression of psychosis, and poetic exchange is therapeutic practice. The interview study produced 4 themes: i) the unsayable becoming sayable; ii) poetry supporting discovery, play and meaning making; iii) relational expression through poetry; and iv) poetry and recovery. These findings, alongside insights emerging from the Surviving by Storytelling project in relation to how to successfully design workshops, the process of creating a safe space and how to position oneself as a facilitator were utilised to generate the poetic interpersonal model for psychosis, comprised of three phases. These are: i) tuning into the poetic wavelength, ii) expressing and reflecting, and iii) poetic narration and re-authoring.


The thesis sets out a contribution to new knowledge and a more poetic understanding of psychosis based on the key ideas that: i) poetry has meaning making potential for people who have experienced psychosis in narrating their stories, both in terms of introspection and as a medium for communicating lived experience to others, ii) psychotic utterances can be considered as meaningful poetics, that is, psychosis can be reconceptualised as meaningful poetic communication, often associated with the narration of something unsayable or pre-communicable, iii) poetry has the potential to offer new ways of working for those within mental health services to more effectively tune in to, what the author terms, ‘the poetic wavelength’, and more effectively appreciate what is being communicated through psychotic utterances.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Winship, Gary
Rennick-Egglestone, Stefan
Keywords: Poetry; Poetry, Therapeutic use; Psychoses
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General)
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC 321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 74407
Depositing User: Pearson, Mark
Date Deposited: 31 Dec 2023 04:40
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2023 04:40

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