The Book: Writing Away the Demons

Writing Away the Demons:
Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing

This new book illustrates writing as a tool of psychological survival. What a courageous act -- to tell the story, to write the poem, to face up to grief, anger, and shame: to ultimately choose a creative channel to manage and regulate one’s emotions.

     Artist: Malka Michaela Barshishat
These men and women whose stories are featured took to their journals instead of reacting with the more usual stress responses (fight, flight, or freeze). As a result, they were able to minimize disorientation, numbness, and emotional discomfort. Some authors in Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing were able to write their stories on their own. Others enlisted the therapist/author's aid to guide the process. All of the writers harnessed the restorative capacity of writing to cope creatively-and ultimately, banish or make peace-- with their demons.

Note: All material on this website is copyrighted and remains the property of individual authors. It may not be reproduced without written consent.


Poetry Doc's New Book Has “Write” Prescription for Stress
Brooklyn, NY, May 15, 2009

When confronted with crisis, scientists tell us there are three human responses to stress: fight, flight, or freeze. Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing (North Star Press, May 15, 2009), spotlights a more constructive response to stress — writing.

Dr. Sherry Reiter, a New York based registered poetry therapist and clinical social worker, makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of expressive writing.  The book features thirteen narratives from her clients, students, and colleagues who wrote their way through crisis -- ordinary (yet extraordinary) individuals who’ve written their way to a better life. Writing Away the Demons is unique as a primer illustrating how people heal through writing. The stories in the book provide a window into what it is like to be a soldier after battle, a teenager who becomes pregnant, and an elderly person coming to terms with her final years.  Dr. Reiter states, "It is a creative act of courage to tell the story and write the poem, to encounter one’s griefs, angers, and shame, and to choose a creative channel to intentionally funnel one’s emotions."

Critics Praise

Transformative Writing -- as evidenced by the diversity of writers who contribute to this ground-breaking collection -- comes from specific experiences, insights, stories and metaphors, and through those specifics, illuminates what's enduring, what's life-giving, what makes us human. Each writer in this book holds up a lantern of transformative writing to show us not just the way through the dark, but how meeting the darkness with curiosity and compassion makes life shimmer with meaning.
 --Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder and coordinator of Transformative Language Arts (TLA) at Goddard College

There is abundant scientific evidence that "expressive writing" is a profound way to affect health and well-being. Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing is a stellar example of "everyday" people discovering this truth first-hand. Along with this, Dr. Reiter is keenly sensitive to the way sharing our stories reveal soul and the remarkable resilience of human beings.
 --John Fox, author of Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-making
President, The Institute for Poetic Medicine

In these remarkable stories, we bear witness to the transformation of pain into power. Sherry Reiter makes an undeniable case for writing as a way through human suffering, with case studies that are nearly archetypal ... A vital and necessary contribution to the literature of therapeutic writing.
--Kathleen Adams, author, Journal to the Self and The Way of the Journal

Dr. Sherry Reiter, one of the pioneers in poetry therapy, is a uniquely gifted writer, practitioner, and educator. Her writing speaks to the heart in a sensitive yet disciplined manner and is compelling because it draws from real life professional experience. In essence, Dr. Reiter's artistic approach to writing is research of the highest order filling a significant gap in the professional literature.
 --Nicholas Mazza, Editor of The Journal of Poetry Therapy;
The Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory, Research and Education

Dr. Sherry Reiter, as well as some contributors to Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing are available for readings, speaking engagements, workshops and discussions at book stores, conferences, educational and clinical settings.
The 2 minute video excerpts were recorded at a group reading held at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City in July 2009.

Author Bios

Sherry Reiter (photo by Elle Tyler)
Sherry Reiter is Director of The Creative “Righting” Center, a poetry therapy training center for helping professionals. Dr. Reiter is a clinical social worker (LCSW, PhD) and registered poetry and drama therapist who combines talk therapy with writing, story and re-claiming of voice. Her time is divided between teaching at Touro College & Hofstra University and private practice. She is coordinator of a long distance Poets-Behind-Bars at maximum security Indiana State Prison. Past President of The National Association for Poetry Therapy, as well as the National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy, Dr. Reiter is well known as a poetry therapy pioneer. She is recipient of several national awards and most recently, the 2009 Instructor of the Year at Touro College. 


Barbara Bethea
Barbara Bethea is a Licensed Creative Art Therapist who works with dually diagnosed populations. Also known as the Afrikana Madonna, Poetess, she has completed a cd project entitled Like Manna for the Soul which offers spiritual and therapeutic healing. Motivational speaker available at

A Story of Domestic Violence: 
The Woman Who Changed A Triangle Into A Square:

Maryellen Bova
Maryellen Bova is Director of The Goddess Center, The Goddess Coach, a Certified Poetry Arts Therapist and Journal to the Self Instructor, a Published Poet and Writer, and an English and Humanities Educator. She created The Goddess Center to encourage women to tap into the self dealing with the body, the soul, and the mind as a whole to embark on a journey toward self-nurturance, personal growth, and Divine healing.

 Tír na mBan:

Alysa Cummings
Alysa Cummings is a ten year cancer survivor who works full time supporting the healing of fellow cancer survivors as a poetry therapist, patient navigator, health educator, treatment coach, freelance writer and poet-in-residence for the University of Pennsylvania website Oncolink.

Greetings from Cancerland:

Rich Fireman
Rich Fireman has been writing for almost forty years and has given readings at several libraries, Barnes & Noble, and the Colts Neck Fair. He has had many poems published in the Monmouth Review, the International Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Passager magazine. He and his wife & lots of dogs & cats live in NJ, where he is currently working on a  screenplay and novel.

A Story About Alzheimer's Disease: The Words That Built A Fortress:

Joel Gabriel

Joel Gabriel is a 1st generation Jewish Mexican-American, providing therapeutic services to the Washington Heights community in upper Manhattan for the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services.  Joel is also an educator on issues of multiculturalism and race.

Preston Hood III
Preston Hood’s poems have appeared in Animus, The Café Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod: International Journal, Rattle, Salamander, and many other literary publications. His book, A Chill I Understand, (2006) received Honorable Mention in the 2007 Maine Literary Awards for published poetry. Most recently, he returned from Arizona State University where he was a visiting writer in residence while his book was being taught as Poetry of Witness.

A Story About War:
The Poem That Was Snake Medicine:

Linda Lanza
Linda Lanza is a poet and calligrapher whose work has been published and exhibited worldwide including Caligraphia USA/USSR in Russia, Words for Peace in San Francisco, and Museum of the Bora, Trieste, Italy. For over 25 years, Linda has facilitated expressive and reflective writing workshops for strength, growth, and healing.

Susan Riback RN, CPT works as a Psychiatric Nurse and continues to use her journal to navigate her course into the unknown. Much to her relief there are more joyful writings and images to validate her healing and progress. Also, she uses meditation to help her find inner strength and peacefulness that is necessary to move forward into her new life.

Sr. Mary Sullivan is a Member of the Religious Congregation of Our Lady Of the Retreat in the Cenacle for more than fifty years.  She has lived and served in several countries.  Sister gives retreats, spiritual direction, has written for the local diocesan paper as a columnist.  She is the co=author of books on prayer for women.  She loves poetry and finds it has become a standard for her life.

Note: Authors who are not listed have chosen to remain anonymous.

Learn More About Transformative Writing

Transformative Writing is the intentional use of writing for psychological change and well-being. As Shaun McNiff, a leading scholar on the expressive arts, says, “Words become agents of transformation, shamanic horses that carry expression and transport people to change.” Transformative writing also goes by these names: “writing therapy,” “poetry therapy,” “bibliotherapy,” and “journal therapy.”

Numerous scientific studies by James W. Pennebaker and other scientists have shown that writing affects heart rate, blood pressure, and the immune system. The power of writing from the heart results in stress reduction and the restoration of emotional equilibrium.

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