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5 minutes reading time (1019 words)

On Becoming a Poetry Therapist

On Becoming a Poetry Therapist

by Victoria Field

A description and critical appraisal of the US National Association of Poetry Therapy accreditation process and its possible application as a model for the UK.   I am currently approaching accreditation as a Poetry Therapist and, increasingly, I am being contacted by others in this country thinking of undertaking this qualification.  This is  possibly due to the absence of any other practitioner-based training in the UK.  I feel it would be very useful for Lapidus to react to this existing model as well as devising its own accreditation policy from scratch.   I will begin by presenting a poem: 

Autobiography In Five Chapters 

1) I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost... I am hopeless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don't see it.

I fall in again.

I can't believe I'm in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in... it's a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street

by Portia Nelson

From: Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying  

It is a humorous poem but the message I want to convey is that we know  that the accreditation process in other organisations has been a road with holes in it.  In Lapidus we have a chance to create our own ‘accreditation street’ free of dangerous obstacles.   

I want to emphasise pace David and Larry that accreditation is certainly not a street that everyone will want to walk down and I firmly believe that Lapidus can continue to be inclusive of the continuum from working with people purely as ‘a writer’ through a role as ‘a community artist’ to working explicitly therapeutically.   

I want to stay for a moment with metaphor as, in the poetry therapy tradition, this can reveal quite directly feelings about a particular subject or process.  The following are metaphors for accreditation that I have gleaned from conversations and written submissions – eg those of David Hart and Larry Butler:  


A barrier to keep people out (or in)

A gate that is difficult to open

A fairytale ‘quest’ or initiation process

Riding a bicycle along a road full of potholes

An excellent guide book which lists the must-sees but allows you to find your own way

A straitjacket or a hammock Belonging to one team and not the other

A world of boring bureaucrats and bean counters

A helping hand as one climbs a mountain in the fog  

I will now outline the NAPT’s ‘Requirements for Certification / Registration as a Poetry Therapist’ and hand out and talk through the relevant pages from their training manual.  These are available on the NAPT website – - follow the link to Training and Education and then to ‘How do I become a poetry therapist’. 

The requirements ask for a background in both psychology and literature and then break down into four categories – running groups (in at least two different contexts), supervision, peer experience (ie experiencing one’s own therapeutic writing) and didactic (reading, conference attendance etc).  I will give my personal reasons for undertaking the training:   Why it was right for me:

It is a flexible model It is practical as well as theoretical - learning by doing as well as studying

The supervision and recording requirements are useful imposed disciplines It gives me community and context

There was no other option available

It is a rich way of learning, drawing on many different approaches

Approaching institutions from a recognised field as well as an individual gives credibility I like the emphasis on reading as much as writing and the use of other ‘texts’ – film, song etc as stimulus The developmental – therapy distinction is clearly articulated  

I will then offer some reasons why I think some form of accreditation would be beneficial for the field of writing for personal development, health or well-being. 

What it offers the field:

A grounding in common experience, reading and study

A shorthand Theoretical bases for work Potential recognition as one of the creative arts therapies

Professional pride Footprints in the sand – pioneers and their followers 

Footnote – some of the questions that came up: 

The prominence of the ‘medical model’  NAPT grew out of pioneering work in large psychiatric hospitals and this is reflected in its membership and some of the language inherent in the work – however, there are many people in NAPT who work in community and developmental settings.  Not all of them pursue CPT or RPT training but still benefit from the rich community of the organisation – much as I imagine will be the case in Lapidus.  The term ‘therapy’ is not quite as loaded in an American context.  2.  The cost There are modest registration costs to Certification - $50 at the beginning and $100 on application for the certificate.  The main cost is paying for supervision from the NAPT approved Mentor-Supervisor who guides mentees through their training – which takes a minimum of two years – this extended period is essential as I think much learning happens slowly and unconsciously and could not be ‘taught’ any faster.  The supervision must be for a minimum total of 60 hours (20 of which may be delegated – for example, I receive supervision from the Senior Art Therapist for one of my groups for no charge) and I pay $60 per hour – ie an anticipated total of $2400 or £1300 at today’s rate.  I think this compares favourably with, say, the Sussex MA at £500 a term.   

Accreditation: McLoughlin
Bibliography – what are your key sources?
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