David Kopacz, MD
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Poetry and Medicine

Presented by Petzel, J., Chesen, C., Coleman, R., Larsen, K. & Kopacz, D.
as a workshop at the American Psychiatric Association
Annual Meeting
Chicago, Illinois | May, 2000

Abstract: In this workshop we will discuss conceptual issues related to poetry and medicine and we will also present readings of five poems. Loss is a common theme, whether of self, poetry, youth, or of a loved one. Various conflicts are raised and addressed, such as between conceptual and narrative experience, the non-medical and medical self, and between responsibility to the patient and other professional and personal responsibilities and interests. Numerous emotions are expressed, including guilt, fond reminiscence, and grief, as well as that defensive reaction to emotional overstimulation, numbing. 

All of these poems grapple with the specter of dehumanization both in the process of medical education and in the inexorable progress of aging, illness, and death of ourselves or others. This dehumanization takes the form of an objectification of the self and body and entails a loss of subjectivity and belief in the durability of the body. I believe that one of the benefits of writing and reading poetry is that it can counter this process of dehumanization; poetry can initiate a process of, what we can call, re-humanization. This process begins with the self, by identifying and exploring our own emotions and reactions, and then it extends outward to others in the world by allowing for empathy. Interestingly, it is only by acknowledging and experiencing our own emotions that we can hope to connect with others.

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Re-humanizing Medicine
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Re-humanizing Medicine

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