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Guest Article

This Writing Well

By Elia Khalaf, MA, RMHC, ATR - Creative Arts Psychotherapist

Creative writing is an integrative tool in art therapy that brings powerful skills of self-expression and radical listening into medical settings to support all those who seek and deliver healthcare. Poetry acts as a vehicle for difficult emotions, both for the writer and listener. During the pandemic and throughout life challenges related to illness and healing, the writing process fosters a safe space where patients, caregivers, family, and frontline healthcare staff can voice their stories to be heard, therefore improving wellbeing. Additionally, creative writing can address social justice and foster inclusion in healthcare, as medical staff and patients collaborate, therefore shifting conventional power dynamics and developing an equitable, creative space for reflection. While writing, we are sharing our experiences from an empowered perspective. When a patient becomes a poet and a nurse explores themselves as story writer, they are enriching their identity and inherently implementing coping skills— noticing their thought patterns and raising their emotional awareness.

In March 2021, This Writing Well was launched as a poet-in-residency program at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. The community-oriented project is led by Elia Khalaf, creative arts psychotherapist at Sylvester, in collaboration with featured poet-in-residence, Melanie Almeder, professor, writer, and cancer survivor. Through a pilot series of six generative workshops, Elia and Melanie led participants on a journey of guided prompts, integrating mindfulness, art, and writing to impact wellness. The workshops, open to all and free of charge, include meditative exercises, art-based mindfulness, and writing prompts which range from describing a personal sanctuary and safe space, odes to scars and body parts, and personal memoirs expressed through the lens of mythical figures such as Joan-of-Arc.

The first UM Sylvester poet-in-residence Melanie Almeder describes how “Cancer, or any serious illness, can make people feel isolated, and an added pandemic worsens the isolation that diagnosis and treatment brings. To have a virtual "Writing Well" gathering place where we could maintain a creative space for patients and caregivers, and where participants could dream aloud on the page, in art and poetry, was to create a community in the midst of isolation.” In one of This Writing Well workshops, Laurel Price Gaylor, wrote, “they laid me down as a pure lily but I resurrect with every righteous cause, with every woman who needs to be strong. If even for a moment— our bravery is eternal.”

*This Writing Well is possible thanks to the support from O, Miami Poetry Festival


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