Reading is often seen as a solitary activity, but social
workers, clients with mental health conditions and children in care, are among
those reaping the benefits of read-aloud groups that get staff and patients
The Reader Organisation, a charity and social enterprise, runs around 300 read-aloud
groups across the country (find your nearest one here). Groups take place in a range of settings from
drop-in groups held in libraries, to projects run in secure mental health units,
day centres, prisons and care homes.
Mary Weston, mental health project manager at The Reader, explains
that shared reading groups are more than simply book clubs. For most mental
health projects, mental health trusts employ a full-time 'reader in residence'
to lead each group and train staff so that they can takeover facilitating the
groups in time.
'We team up with staff and train them up at the same time,'
Mary says. 'A lot of the time we work with occupational therapists and
psychotherapists. We have one or two social workers allied to the team and we
have projects with social work departments where we work with looked after
The groups bring patients together 'in quite a human way,
rather than a patient-expert way,' Mary says. There is no pressure on anyone to
read, and no weighty critiques or literary analysis expected. Instead the emphasis is on
'enjoying a text together' and allowing people to benefit from it in their own
'Everybody gets what they get out of it as an individual,' Mary
says. 'But we do find different things tend to happen in different groups. In a
secure setting, or groups where a lot of people have been diagnosed with a
personality disorder, the good outcomes that we're seeing are people learning
to take turns in discussions, learning how to share the floor for example.'
'Where people are depressed and anxious, it's often the
friendship, meeting and getting together with other people to have meaningful
discussions rather than just small talk. You're talking about a text so it's not
personal - it means people can go as far as they want in terms of sharing their
Mary admits that building a group can take time and engaging
staff with the groups is crucial to winning over patients - some of whom are sceptical
at first. She is in the early stages of running a group in a rehab setting with people who
have had enduring mental illnesses, and says that take-up is good after a difficult start.
'On the first day people came in, would see my face,
and run out of the room. And my face isn't great but it isn't that bad either!', she laughs.
'We do depend on staff having good relations with people as word of mouth helps and we
do shamelessly use cake and things like that to entice people along! But once
people come they often like it. I remember one person telling me: "'It's not
what you think it would be like...It's good!"'
It is a situation familiar to Megg Hewlett, a project worker
for The Reader Organisation who runs a series of read-aloud groups in London.
Megg says the growing interest in shared reading groups is encouraging - she is in the process of setting up groups in two London prisons, while The Reader Organisation is about to host its third national conference. But Megg says she is most pleased with the feedback from group members, compiled in interviews she conducted with people that have attended weekly read-aloud groups in libraries in west London.
In one interview a man who, in his words, had 'several breakdowns, self harm, anxiety and depression', said the following:
of my goals in coming to the group was to 'reinvent' myself, to find an
identity that I was comfortable with and to be defined by something other than
being a mental health service user. I
wanted to consolidate and integrate a lot of things that I have been working on
and developing in myself over many years.
'Book Break has helped me do this.
The positive feedback I have received from other group members has
helped my build self esteem. I am
starting to enjoy myself and even beginning to believe I, too, am an ok
person. People find me interesting and
like my humour. The group has helped me
change the negative opinion of myself, an opinion I have had all my life.'
Read the complete post at http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/mental-health/2012/04/how-read-aloud-groups-can-bene.html
30 Apr 2012 11:35 AM
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