Clinical Perspective

Poetry and narrative therapy for anxiety about spinal surgery

Published in: Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health
Volume 27, issue 1, 2015 , pages: 75–84
DOI: 10.2989/17280583.2015.1034722
Author(s): Thirusha NaiduDepartment of Behavioural Medicine, South Africa, Sifiso ShabanguDepartment of Psychology, South Africa


This case study presents the use of poetry in psychotherapy with an adolescent girl, Buhle (a pseudonym), who needed surgery to correct a curvature of her spine due to adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. She experienced anxiety which prevented surgeons from doing the procedure. Psychotherapists used narrative therapy to explore issues associated with and contributing to her anxiety and encouraged her to document her experiences through poetry, after learning that she was a keen poet. During psychotherapy Buhle's poems were used to track and narrate her experiences and as an empowering method allowing her to make personal sense of challenging experiences. Buhle's poems are presented within an account of the psychotherapy leading up to the surgery. Her poetry reveals a juxtaposition of regular adolescent identity issues in the face of coping with a demanding medical condition and the prospect of invasive surgery.

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