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Healing through haiku: The untapped reflective practice

islands of trauma; drifting
around in my brain.

I stumbled into writing haiku by accident. What started as a single poem capturing a traumatic moment in time, spanned an entire collection of cathartic exploration. I later learnt that I was not the only one using haiku in this way. In fact, the therapeutic use of haiku for reflection and connection amongst healthcare professionals has roots scattered throughout academic literature in many disciplines. It is hoped that through reading this article, you can also stumble into (and fall in love with) the art of haiku as a professional reflective practice.


So, what is Haiku?

Haiku is a style of Japanese short form poetry, traditionally depicting nature at a singular point in time. It’s comprised of three lines with a structured syllable count. Five. Seven. Five. In total, seventeen poignant syllables. Contemporary haiku has expanded beyond these confines in format and content to explore a multitude of current themes and diverse syllable counts. The concise nature of haiku challenges its author to distil complex thoughts, feelings and lived experiences into digestible chunks. The scarcity of available syllables encourages the thoughtful placement of meticulously chosen words. It strikes a delicate balance in the economy of words between what is said with what is left unspoken, pushing its readers to examine the empty spaces for deeper meaning.

Haiku and Healthcare

Reflective practice is considered an important skill for high quality healthcare service (Nelson, 2012). Whilst reflective practice can be undertaken in a variety of ways, the application of reading and writing haiku as a means of reflective practice among healthcare students and other professionals has been documented across academic literature. Reading and writing haiku as a reflective practice has demonstrated potential benefits, such as the cultivation of critical thinking skills, as well as the exploration of complex emotions for the development of empathy.

Haiku for Connection

Williams (2011) stated that “poetry offers students the opportunity to increase their self-awareness by helping them examine their experiences in terms of emotions and mental images as well as language” (p. 17). This can be seen in Gair (2012) who used haiku writing as a medium for social work students to identify times in which incongruence between their values, emotions and personal experiences hindered their ability to display empathy and understanding towards clients. This facilitated a creative space for critical reflection, which resulted in the students reporting a deeper understanding and awareness of empathy.

In my experience, writing haiku bled together my professional understanding and lived experience of trauma. This allowed me to explore and embody both a consumer and professional perspective through writing health-related poetry. Unpacking how these perspectives inform each other led me to a deeper sense of self-awareness and empathy in my own practice. In saying this, reading other health-related poetry has assisted me in understanding and empathising with the lived experience of others which is equally as beneficial.  

Haiku for Reflection

Within a clinical setting, Biley and Champney-Smith (2003) emphasised that using haiku for critical reflective practice can assist in unpacking important socio-emotional and practical issues within the work setting. Furthering this, haiku requires the ability to extract the most important elements of a larger concept and concisely articulate them, which can assist in the development of critical thinking skills (Lewis, 2018). This is evident in Lewis (2018) who utilised the haiku format to assist nursing students in using critical thinking skills to organise their thoughts and identify key concepts in learning material.

This also resonates with my experience of writing poetry. Each haiku in my collection represents a standalone moment of trauma, it’s psychological ramifications and/or the process of healing. Exploring the individual experiences and then placing them together into a mosaic of haiku allowed a reflective space for me to appreciate the post traumatic growth that spawned through this journey, as well as the individual steppingstones that pathed the way. Writing haiku also encouraged critical thinking around the most salient elements of my lived experience. In doing that, I was able to draw out underlying elements that had previously been implicit but were now brought to my attention in a way that fostered deeper understanding and meaning. This could easily be applied to work-related content that is distressing or confronting and can be useful in critically analysing and processing the emotions that come along with that.

Final thoughts

As I progress through my studies in Occupational Therapy and continue developing experience as a mental health professional, I will continue using haiku as a format for reflective practice, both personally and professionally. I’ve seen the benefits of composing short form poetry, like haiku, some of which is summarised in this article. I hope that after reading this you might also sit down and give it a go.

You can purchase my haiku collection today!


Blog is written by Zoe Connell

Zoe is currently completing her Master of Occupational Therapy at the University of Canberra. Zoe is passionate about mental health, trauma, boxing, and writing haiku. Zoe is also the author of the haiku collection ‘Fragments of Connection’.

How to contact Zoe:

References and additional reading

Biley, & Champney-Smith, J. (2003). “Attempting to say something without saying it …”: writing haiku in health care education. Medical Humanities, 29(1), 39–42.

Gair. (2012). Haiku as a creative writing approach to explore empathy with social work students: A classroom-based inquiry. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 25(2), 69–82.

Lewis. (2018). Haiku to enhance student learning: Experiences from a pathophysiology classroom. Nurse Education Today, 60, 98–100.

Nelson, S. (2012). The lost path to emancipatory practice: towards a history of reflective practice in nursing. Nursing Philosophy, 13, 202–213.

Williams , T. 2011 . A poetry therapy model for the literature classroom . Journal of Poetry Therapy 24 1 , 17 – 33 . doi: 10.1080/08893675.2011.549682

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