Wednesday 13 March 2013

Running a Reading Group for Mental Health Patients

Our first meeting of 2013, held in Reading in March, was well attended and this may have had something to do with our new later time of 6.30pm for a 7pm start. We have made this move so that people in the Thames Valley who live further away from our usual venue can make it after work. However it was probably to do with the guest speakers visited us from The Reader Organisation and the Prospect Park mental health unit. Sue Colburn, a reading leader and advocate, and Sue McLaughlin, a Nurse Consultant at Berkshire Healthcare Trust, came to tell us about The Reading Organisation’s work leading reading groups with vulnerable people.

The Reading Organisation’s method is to read the whole text of a piece of literature together, slowly, so people can interact with the text and each other. In newer groups they tend to work with a lot of poems and short stories, but with more established groups they get through whole literary classics. They use literature as an in-road to helping people with their problems – many finding a way to talk, confront, or contemplate their problems by identifying with the literature. Participants can be as active or as passive as they like, but they can rely on the reading group running week in, week out, except Christmas, giving them a constant source of contact, release, or comfort when they may not feel they have this in other areas of their lives. They have open access public groups in some libraries across the country and others are help in care homes and mental health units.

At first the group at the Prospect Park unit was run as a pilot course, called Tea & Tales, which grew week after week. Some of the success of this may have been due to the fact it flattened the hierarchy, during the reading nurses and patients were all just participants. For a while they could not find the funding to continue running the group. The problem was finding a way to measure the success of these groups. They had qualitative evidence in the form of patients’ reactions and they ran demonstration sessions, but they seemed to be missing out to other things. The good news is that they have now found funding from the Healthcare Trust and hope to start up again in April. They intend to train four nurses to run sessions and run a session at Wokingham Public Library for outpatients that want to continue to use a group. They are also learning how to measure the outcomes of the programme to support their case and prove their value, however they believe that qualitative evidence should not be discounted, how people feel should count.

Currently the programme is little known in the Thames Valley, the only open group run here is in Wokingham Library. If anyone would like to become a group leader they can train to do so through the Read to Lead course, the details are on The Reader Organisation. It was a very inspiring evening and The Reader Organisation is a really worthy charity that makes a difference to lives through literature, what with being a librarian, something I have always believed in. I haven’t done it justice here but hopefully we can do our bit to spread the word in the Thames Valley region; as well as their website they have a blog, you can follow them on Twitter @thereaderorg, or email for more information:

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