To Awaken Soulfulness in the Human Voice

Poetic Medicine


Finding Our Voices: The Poetry of Recovery

New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, NY

IPM Partner: Judith Prest

Judith Prest, LMSW, worked as a school social worker/substance abuse prevention trainer for 26 years. She holds an MSW from SUNY Albany School of Social Welfare (1983) and two certificates from New York Expressive Arts Studio in Albany, NY – Creativity Coaching (2002) and Expressive Arts Therapy (2006). She has taught and facilitated poetry, creativity & healing, and expressive arts workshops since 1999.

Since retiring from her school social work job, she has presented workshops in community and retreat centers, galleries, prisons, addiction treatment programs, libraries and at Spirit Wind Studio where she lives and works. She has also been writing and publishing poetry, as well as making and selling art – mixed media pieces and photography. Her poetry has been published in seven anthologies and in several literary journals and she has self-published two full length poetry collections and two chapbook s. She currently works one day a week facilitating expressive arts groups at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, NY.

When the numbing influence of the drug of

choice leaves the body, memories and stories can return. At this point, hearing the words of others and writing from their own experience can help people make sense of

the journey through addiction and recovery.

  • Finding Our Voices: The Poetry of Recovery will serve participants in the New Choices Recovery programs. — Overview

    Poetry Groups
    Two cycles* of a twelve hour poetry group which will include reading poetry, writing from a variety of prompts, and creating word and/or visual collages. There will be 8-12 participants in each cycle (ultimately reaching 16-24 New Choices clients). By running two cycles of these sessions with two different groups of clients, we will be able to extend the benefits of working with poetry to more clients. Time frame of the poetry groups will be eight 90 minute group sessions over a several week period. Printed Anthology of Client Poetry Poetry by clients in the groups will be included first, if there is room after that, other poetry by New Choices clients may be included in the book. This will be a “real” printed book – perfect bound with a color cover.

    Open Mic Poetry Events

    Two open mic poetry events for the entire New Choices client population will be held. The first will be in April, shortly after the conclusion of the poetry groups, and the second will be timed to occur when the anthology is printed.


    The participants in the two poetry groups will be clients in the New Cholces Day Treatment Program. New Choices Day Treatment serves adults (18 and up), women and men, who are in recovery from addiction. Some clients come straight from county jail, some are coming from in-patient rehab programs; others may be referred through Schenectady County Drug Court, Department of Social Services or Child Protective Services. Many clients are also dealing with mental illness, PTSD, housing and health issues as well as being in recovery from substance abuse. In spite of dealing with difficult life circumstances, a good number of the people who come through the program are creative, articulate and talented, and many more have the potential to access these qualities in themselves, given encouragement and support.  The poetry groups will serve 16 to 24 clients total. The Open Mic poetry events will be open to the entire New Choices population (75 to 80 participants).

    Purpose and Goals

    For poetry group participants

    •  increase comfort level with written expression
    • increase confidence through participation in group discussion and through
    • sharing their writing out loud with group
    • write and share poetry that reflects their life experiences particularly related
    • to addiction and recovery (but not limited to those parts of their stories!).
    • empowerment through the experience of writing and speaking their truths/
    • sharing their stories (and listening to the writing/stories of others
  • Project Description

    Addiction is a disease that will steal the soul right out of the body. Addiction is a disease of secrecy and shame. Much of the work of recovery involves learning new ways to see the world, new ways to communicate. Giving voice to the process through poetry can be healing and empowering. When the numbing influence of the drug of choice leaves the body, memories and stories can return. At this point, hearing the words of others and writing from their own experience can help people make sense of the journey through addiction and recovery.

    This program will offer an opportunity for selected New Choices clients to participate in a 12 hour Poetry Group

    The groups will be held over a several week period, during the regular 90 minute recovery group session times at the day treatment program. Each session will focus on some aspect of recovery. The first session will focus on “getting our feet wet” – Why Poetry??”, and working with the prompt “I’m From”. Some other group topics are: Meeting Our Inner Child, Grief and Loss, Forgiveness, Coping with Emotions (this entire session will be based on responses to Rumi’s “The Guest House”). We will start each session with quotes and poems from other writers that relate to the topic, respond to those, then will write from prompts, share writing and discuss. Sometimes images or visual art or songs and music will be used as writing prompts.

    This project has been funded to allow for two different groups of 8 to 12 clients.

    Each group will meet on the same day, one during the first morning group time frame and the other during the second session. Clients will be referred to the group by their primary clinician – and the group is open to clients who are already poets/writers as well as to anyone who has a strong interest in exploring poetry as part of their recovery process. This project also includes funding to publish an anthology of the poetry that emerges from the groups, and to hold two “Open Mic” events at New Choices for the entire day treatment client population.

    John Fox has been to New Choices and has facilitated program-wide poetry programs with New Choices clients several times in the past. Fortuitously for this project, it just happened to work out that John’s schedule will bring him East in February, and we have been able to schedule a day for him to facilitate two poetry groups with New Choices clients on February 13. This is NOT part of the IPM funded program, but will be a great way to get the word out to clients about the Finding Our Voices poetry groups and open mic events that are part of the IPM grant as well as a great experience for all the New Choices clients who are present that day.

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