Not long ago I met for the first time a psychiatrist colleague whose articles I had enjoyed reading. I introduced myself, saying how impressed I was by his account of introducing cognitive–behavioural approaches in a tough inner-city general psychiatry setting. He responded graciously, saying ‘Oh, but you're the psychotherapist fellow who writes those nice articles about poetry in the Bulletin’ (Holmes, 1996). Feeling slightly put down by this male banter, implying that there was something vaguely ‘wet’ and irrelevant about both poetry and psychotherapy, and keen as always to establish psychotherapy as a vigorous equal player with social and psychical treatment approaches, I was reminded of how easy it is to see psychotherapy as a frivolous luxury when compared with the rock face of general adult psychiatry – and how to view it as ‘poetic’ might merely reinforce that view. But poetry can be extremely tough – Kipling, Graves and Hughes would be obvious 20th century examples – as can psychotherapy, which often outmatches other psychiatric disciplines in the rigour of its research methods (Roth & Fonagy, 1996) and strictness of its boundaries.
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