Graduate Student Uses Poetry and Writing Exercises to Help Therapy Clients Heal

Molly Bess Rector
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Molly Bess Rector

Molly Bess Rector earned an M.F.A. in poetry from the U of A six years ago and is just a few months away from graduating with a second master's degree, this one in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

What's exciting is how she's blending both to make people healthier.

Rector says that being part of the poetry community has increased her sensitivity to language. She adds that it also made her more aware of social justice issues, multicultural perspectives and the benefits of creative expression.

Poetry prompts and other writing exercises are usual parts of her sessions with therapy clients. Rector is an intern in the U of A counseling program's online clinic, which offers free therapy services to the community. She's also working at Midtown Counseling, where she helps clients navigate traumatic events.

"I often share poems I think will speak to them — Lucille Clifton's poems come up a lot — and my clients who write also share their work with me," she said.

After graduating in December, Rector plans to open an independent counseling practice that offers different types of programming — like workshops and therapeutic writing groups — in addition to individual counseling. She hopes to make use of her connections in the arts community to support her clients' recovery.

Rector directs the Open Mouth Literary Center, a community-based literary nonprofit.

"Our goal is to bring the poets in our community into contact with nationally touring poets," she said. "We've hosted at least one poetry reading every month over the last six years, except for March to June 2020, when we were figuring out how to go virtual."

The center offers readings and workshops with visiting writers every second Sunday of the month, classes, a summer writing retreat and a fall festival. There are also day residency opportunities for local writers who don't have institutional support.

"Right now, we're focused on accessibility in poetry programming, and we're also developing a fellowship for a poet currently experiencing incarceration, in collaboration with DecARcerate," she said. "We're trying to get poetry out there in lots of different ways."

Anyone in the Northwest Arkansas community can request U of A counseling services by emailing The fall Open Mouth Poetry Festival will be held on Oct. 29-30 via Zoom, featuring Threa Almontaser, Danielle Badra, Mohja Kahf, Brody Parrish Craig, Kaveh Bassiri, Carolyn Guinizio and more.

This story is the latest in a series called the Dean's Spotlight, featuring outstanding students in the College of Education and Health Professions. Visit COEHP's online magazine, the Colleague, for more news from the six units that make up the College. Visit the Counselor Education and Supervision page for more information on COEHP's counseling program.


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