How MSW Student, Carly Woolard Uses Poetry For Healing

Featured photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Poetry and Social Work:

Carly Woolard entered UNE’s MSW Program in Fall of 2018.  She is originally from North Carolina, but knew she’d be moving to Maine the moment she came upon UNE’s Applied Arts and Social Justice Certificate.  “I’d not seen anything like it before and just knew it was perfect,” she shares.

Carly has been a poet since she was just a child.  In fact, in the 8th grade, she remembers getting in trouble for writing poetry when she should have been taking notes.  The teacher confiscated her poetry, but was so moved by the poems, that the very next day, she awarded Carly with a poetry award! “I was so embarrassed at the time,  but in hindsight, I think it’s wonderful.”

Carly’s 8th Grade poetry award

Carly poetically describes her passion for the arts and her desire to advocate for others as two tributaries forming a river that eventually spill into the grandiosity of the sea.  She aspires to incorporate writing, music, dance, and art as therapeutic exploration to foster  emotional wellness.  “Expressing our deepest thoughts through the arts allows us to process feelings and gives us a way to communicate with others and ourselves,” she shares,  “it’s this passion that makes me so eager to share the dynamic delicacy of expression with individuals in adverse situations through the unique outlet of the creative arts.”

Poetry Projects at UNE:

Carly is currently in her second year of the program and already doing tremendous work.   She crafts her studies wisely, so that work in one course complements work in another.   For her research course, she designed a study where she examined the integration of poetry in medicine and poetry’s relationship to healing, which she then developed into a macro art project for her Creative Arts and Social Work Practice course.

IMG_3128As part of her research, she designed a pamphlet of poetry (Poems for Patients) that was comprised of poems gathered from a UK database of poetry all deemed therapeutic.  She placed these in a clinical waiting room and utilized the DASS (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale) to measure  stress levels of those who participated.  The inspiration for this project was partly derived from her prior employment.  Carly worked at a University Student Health Clinic in undergrad and noticed how grueling the waiting could be for patients.  “Not only are they dealing with physical discomfort of illness, but they’re also dealing with the the overall disruption – stress of rescheduling, missing work, life events, and the waiting alone…”  Poems for Patients is a collection of poems dedicated to making the waiting room a better place. It aims to bring positivity to an otherwise stressful, mundane, & time-consuming experience.  Though the number of research participants was too small to draw any decisive conclusions, she reports all her data did conclude that those who read the poetry effectively decreased their levels of stress and anxiety.

Carly expanded on this project into a macro study for her Creative Arts class.   She developed a social media project through which she collects and distributes poetry from poets around the globe that offer encouragement and/or reflection on topics of health, illness, wellness, and healing. “The original project utilized pieces from historical poets, whereas connecting with real-life poets was explored in this next phase of the project,” she explains. The social media platforms include Instagram (@poemsforpatients) and Facebook (Poems For Patients) and she created an email account ( for people to contact the project easily.   The goals of the platforms include:

  • Bringing awareness to the waiting room experience and how it should be changed
  • Creating social change through poetry
  • Connecting with writers who want to contribute poems
  • Connecting with healthcare organizations to host pamphlets
  • Educating the public on ways poetry can be therapeutic
  • Empowering individuals to share their creative endeavors

Samples from Poems for Patients:



Carly developed this project through a clinical lens in collaboration with UNE’s Center For Excellence in Aging and Health, where she serves as a Graduate Assistant (Carly is also pursuing the Training in Aging and Diversity (TRIAD) Certificate).   She participated in a pilot study (The Unlonely Project) that aimed to connect older adults in rural areas through the arts.  In addition to this, she led a poetry work shop at the the UNE affiliated Mother House, a former convent recently converted into housing for people 55 and older.  Participants read and wrote poetry and were invited to contribute to the Poems for Patient project if they desired.

Carly is currently doing her Field Placement at Spring Harbor Hospital , an inpatient psychiatric hospital for adults, children and adolescents, where she plans to continue to fold the arts into her practice.  Along with facilitating a CBT group, she also plans to co-lead a “Spirituality and the Arts” group every Friday.  She plans to incorporate a diverse range of artistic modalities-music, poetry, painting, theater,  all with the goal of being therapeutic.

IMG_0941 2Carly’s Inspiration:

“When I was just 10 years old, I remember my cat ran away.  I don’t think I even knew what poetry was,  but I remember sitting down on the stoop of our house, just absolutely devastated, and I  began to write.”

She wrote three lines only:  Oh it is the day.  I cannot believe it.  My cat has run away.  

She left the poem on the stoop, which her father, a musician, later picked up.  After comforting her over the loss of her cat, he exclaimed, “but my goodness, you’ve written a lovely poem!”

“This is how he taught me things,” Carly says.  He’d sing  songs about math on the way to school and create poetic jingles for her to commit to memory.  “Poetry is how I naturally translated my emotions.”  Before she knew it, she was filling up journals, and names like Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, and Mary Oliver filled her bookshelves.

“The creative arts can serve as a liaison for people to communicate with each other about shared feelings and experiences.  There’s nothing like reading a poem and walking away from it with the feeling that the you are not alone.”

What’s Next?

Carly’s ultimate goal is to eventually obtain her clinical license and manifest her love of arts arts and passion for healing in work as a hospital social worker.    “With an education through UNE, my undergraduate courses and experiences, and my natural adoration for the arts, I am confident I can promise healthy healing and social inclusion through the creative arts community.”

We’ve included below Carly’s recent submission to Akesis,  a journal of narrative medicine created and run by students at the University of New England (ME, USA).  Enjoy!


You are here
But How? you ask
You’ve been through hell and back,
countless panic attacks.
You hold your story
in the crook of your neck,
always gotta double-check
if you’re okay or in purgatory.
Disconnected from your body,
numbing the shame with another hot toddy.
Running the blame like, Why can’t I trust anybody?
But remember, you are here
Let us vow
to ourselves that we will allow
ourselves to reach for the sky
with a deep breath in and a deep breath out.
Untwist that spine
so we stand up like we love ourselves or something.
Wiggle your shoulders
like you are the beholder
of your own beautiful existence.
Take your story
and any resistance
from the crook of your neck
and let
yourself breathe in the morning and all its glory.
Scoop the earth
with your strong hands and spread your arms like wings.
Fly to safety- this is your rebirth.
So give yourself a bow
because you are here

Woolard, Carly (2019) “You Are Here Now,” Akesis: Vol. 5 : Iss. 1 , Article 6.
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