Kurt Zubatiuk is a psychotherapist, Japanese sword practitioner and poet. He is the author of the poetry collection, Ekstasis (LyricalMyrical). His work also appears in several anthologies including I Found it at The Movies (Guernica) and Gods, Memes & Monsters (Stone Skin). He lives with his lovely spouse Heather Wood, and two cats in Toronto.
Kurt drops by the blog this week with a guest post comparing two of the three callings he lists above.
Competing for Empathy: Psychotherapy vs Poetry
I’m a psychotherapist. I haven’t been at it that long: I started training in 2008, started my practice under supervision in 2009 and graduated in 2012. The impact of being a psychotherapist on my life, personality and sense of self is still a work in progress. As is the impact of practising psychotherapy on myself as poet.
When I began studying and training in psychotherapy, I quickly noticed that I no longer had brain or mind space for poetry. Understandable. I was learning and attempting to integrate challenging concepts and experiences, and then I was preoccupied with getting a business, my private practice, up and running. But that wasn’t the whole story.
I should mention that I’m a Relational Psychotherapist, a “style” that falls under the heading of “psychodynamic” psychotherapy, which simply means that the mind and what ails it can be changed. Relational Psychotherapy, amongst many other models, involves the emotional investment of the therapist in the process of therapy in relationship with the client; in fact, it this therapeutic relationship that is the foundation from which positive change can occur in the client. In this relationship, the therapist empathizes with and comes to understand the subjective experience of the client, and helps the client “write the story” of her or his own self.
Okay, so what? Well, poetry is kind of like this too. Or can be. Poetry is a very “felt” process that, at least for me, involves being emotionally “present” with whatever experience is being written about. Whether reinterpreting a personal experience, observing a moment in nature, or capturing the ethos of a well crafted film or the tension of a human interaction, the poet processes a visceral sensorial and affective (emotional) experience then translates that into language. Another way to say it is, the poet “symbolises” the ineffable sense of being and living. Unlike many prose works, poetry often attempts to capture a particular subjective experience, not an objective one. Rather than diluting the experience in order to make it linguistically translatable to a larger readership, poetry often requires the reader to join the subjective experience and language of the poet, not only to “understand” the experience (fictional or otherwise), but to experience the mind of the poet.
That is what I, and many others, do as a psychotherapist. I work hard to find my way into the client’s experience in order to understand, “feel” and make sense of her or his experience; to understand it from the client’s perspective. As analogous to the construction of a poem, I seek to “feel” my way into the client’s mind and experience in order to help the client feel understood, and to help the client find the often profound meaning layered in her or his experience.
In short, the process of being a psychotherapist appeared to use the same part of my brain and mind as poetry, and for a good many years, there was no room for poetry! Until recently, that is. It appears that I finally have this psychotherapy thing down enough that there is space again.
It was a relief to discover, or rediscover, that I am still a poet; that I still have poetry within me. I was trained as an abstract painter, and it was difficult enough to reinvent myself and my identity once already. (The art career never materialised.) More importantly, it feels good to reconnect with writing again. I guess I could say it feels good to reconnect with myself, as well as with the world, through the mirror and lens that is the writing of poetry.
So, I am honoured and grateful to be reading both older and new work at Brockton Writers Series this January.
Kurt Zubatiuk visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Anthony De Sa, Cherie Dimaline, C. Fong Hsiung and a special guest talk by Lana Pesch, “Trailervision: Tips and Trends About Book Trailers”.