A look back at a piece from our founder and director Jane Davis from earlier this year. We were delighted to welcome Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt to Calderstones in March, Jane reflected on his visit on her blog, starting as always with the daily poem:
This month The Reader features in The Psychologist magazine. CRILS’ Philip Davis discusses Literature in performance, psychology in action.
Can you combat chronic pain through Shared Reading? Kate, who runs the chronic pain reading group at Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool tells us how it can be as effective as traditional therapies.
*EDIT: This event is now SOLD OUT*
Mental Health in Context
Tuesday 21st April, 5.30-7.30pm
The Women’s Organisation, 54 James Street, Liverpool L1 0AB
Introduced by Vice Chancellor of University of Liverpool, Professor Janet Beer
featuring a guest appearance from Jeanette Winterson, in conversation and reading from her work
with Professor Rhiannon Corcoran, Dr Jane Davis and Dr Eleanor Longden
This inaugural event of a new research group at the University of Liverpool will showcase real-life research in the University for the City in vital areas of human well-being.
Working within the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, Mental Health in Context brings together experts in the University of Liverpool from various fields of psychology and culture to consider mental health difficulties within the broader context of the social, cultural and personal realms in order to improve the understanding and treatment of those difficulties in the modern world.
This special event, launching Mental Health in Context and showing its relation to real-life concerns in the city and the region, will highlight four major projects of major relevance to public well-being , including the development of the International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones Mansion. For more information on the projects, please see the MHIC website.
Jeanette Winterson, the distinguished novelist who was born and raised in the North West of England, will speak of her own mental health experiences including her fictional and autobiographical writings, including her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, her belief in alternative interventions including in particular the uses of literature, and read from her work.
“Dealing with our world is really hard work. It is hard to be healthy, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, in a world where there is so little security and so much fear. Ill health is a response, a consequence of the way we live. It should not be pushed back onto us all as a personal problem. For me it’s the relationship between mind, body, outside world, and soul. The body so often carries the burdens of mental disturbance – usually through addiction, which can be food, drink, drugs, self-harming, or the pathology of wanting to be attractive all the time. Good mental health depends on knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside. That’s why meditation is so good. That’s why reading and the arts are so good. Knowing how to be on your own is one of the keystones of mental health.” – Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette was interviewed by The Reader Organisation’s Founder Jane Davis for The Reader prior to the publication of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? about her experiences. The interview can be found online here: https://readerjanedavis.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/jeanette-winterson-in-conversation/
Dr Eleanor Longden exemplifies the nature of the project and the evening: she is someone who has had both profound personal experience of mental difficulties and is also a researcher within MHIC at University of Liverpool. She exemplifies the crucial two-way relation between research and reality, which is the subject-matter and purpose of MHIC. Her TED talk, ‘The Voices in My Head’, has attracted wide interest, amassing nearly 3 million views (and can be viewed here).
Places to attend are free, and can be booked here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mental-health-in-context-launch-event-tickets-16237051458
These are the questions raised by what is now often called ‘Bibliotherapy’: the attempt to use books in the effort towards personal development and discovery. They are also the
questions to be investigated in Therapy through Literature, a stand-alone module offered by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool in London.
Therapy through Literature takes as its subject what the psychologist William James described
as the predicament of ‘twice-born souls’ – those who have to readjust to experience,
following trauma. It looks at crucial versions of life-reappraisal within literature, including prose narratives of breakdown and second chance from Charles Dickens to Oliver Sacks, and the expressive power of poetry as a form of second life, including Elizabethan sonnet writers, Wordsworth
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This is an intensive but personally moving reading course
designed to show the value of literary thinking through the close exploration of literary
language across the ages, in the search for human meaning.
The module can become part of a two-year, part-time Masters degree in Reading for Life, the first of its kind in the country. Reading for Life is concerned with the wider and deeper ways in which serious creative literature ‘finds’ people, emotionally and imaginatively, by offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities. The course offers books of all kinds – novels, poetry, drama and essays in philosophy and theology – and from all periods, from Shakespeare to the present.
The Therapy through Literature MA module starts in January 2015 at the University of Liverpool in London, 33 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1AG, with enrolment taking place now.
Cost: £750 per module (+ £50 for accreditation); 30 credits for 6,000 word essay, plus informal formative writing in practice and preparation.
Please contact Professor Phil Davis, Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS), University of Liverpool: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, see the University of Liverpool in London website or the following leaflet: https://www.scribd.com/doc/249139728/Therapy-Through-Literature-MA-Module
The Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool has published ‘Read to Care‘, an evaluation report of a research project investigating the quality of life benefits and impacts for people living with dementia in shared reading activity across Merseyside.
CRILS is a research unit dedicated to investigating the effect of reading serious literature in the wider world, with a view to benefits in health and wellbeing, and is The Reader Organisation’s research partner. In 2012, CRILS evaluated TRO’s shared reading programme for people living with dementia with support from the Headley Trust – ‘A Literature-Based Intervention for Older People Living with Dementia’ showed that shared reading provided marked improvements in agitation levels, mood levels and concentration levels for participants, as well as improved social interaction.
Developing from this, TRO was commissioned by NHS North West to undertake a follow-up study of the effects of shared reading in Care Homes in Wirral. The aim of the project was to further investigate the impact engaging in a shared reading group activity has upon people living with dementia, adding to and supporting a growing body of anecdotal evidence.
In ‘Read to Care’, particular consideration is given to:
- the uses of powerfully emotional literature to trigger awakenings in people living with dementia;
- the value of literature in offering emotional experiences too often feared to be ‘negative’;
- the kind of memory that is stimulated by shared reading – different from working memory or from what is achieved through reminiscence therapy;
- the additional effect on relatives and carers
The conclusions and recommendations of the report show that shared reading groups significantly improve the quality of life of people living with dementia, as well as providing valuable benefit to care workers and relatives in encouragement of remaining human possibilities.
“Reading aloud when others are there to listen, the sense of being in a unified community, has been the privilege of Poets for millenia. And it works. The words – common to all, unite minds and the shared stimulus appears to have an uplifting group effect.” – Melvyn Bragg (preface to Read to Care)
The report will be the focus of a presentation held at the University of Liverpool this November. Professor Phil Davis, Director of CRILS, will present findings from Read to Care, alongside one of The Reader Organisation’s project workers who was involved in the practical delivery of the groups participating in the project. Anyone interested in dementia and the relationship between literature, health and wellbeing is welcome to discover more.
‘Read to Care: Shared Reading Groups & Quality of Life Benefits for People Living With Dementia’ with Professor Phil Davis is on Thursday 20th November, 6.00pm, at Lecture Theatre 1, Sherrington Building, Ashton Street (off Pembroke Place), University of Liverpool.
Cost: £20, including buffet supper.
The latest research into the effects shared reading is having as a non-medical, literature based intervention into health conditions has been published by The Reader Organisation and research partners.
The study, carried out by a partnership between the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at University of Liverpool and The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust, investigates the impact of shared reading for people living with chronic pain when delivered in a clinical setting. As part of the research, The Reader Organisation held a regular shared reading group at Broadgreen Hospital for patients with chronic pain who had been recruited from pain clinics around the Trust.
Intital results from the study, which was examined in a seminar at last year’s National Conference, have proved to show positive impacts in the relationship between shared reading, alleviation of pain symptoms and improved psychological wellbeing, with factors such as absorbed concentration upon the literature, a sense of community, comradeship and social connections being established and an enhanced quality of life all emerging for patients taking part in the group. The study follows previous research from CRILS which focused upon shared reading in relation to mental health conditions and is the first time data has been collected on physical health and a literature-based intervention.
People living with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms such as mood or anxiety disorders, and in turn depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain. One of the contributing researchers, Dr Andrew Jones from Broadgreen Hospital, commented that the study gave a positive indication for patients with chronic pain:
“Early indications are showing that the reading group is making a difference to people in our hospital. But there is something intangible, a deeper impact beyond that, which we can’t measure using existing qualitative research methods. While there is already evidence of the mental health benefits of shared reading, little is known about the benefits for physical health, but the link between chronic pain and psychiatric symptoms indicate it could help.”
The study contains several first-hand accounts from patients who took part, talking about their experiences of attending the group:
“It’s my little island…a safe haven…it’s very informal and comfortable”
“I don’t have pain when we are discussing or reading the story…the whole thing is read out and I don’t have any pain.”
“I’ve really, really got to concentrate…and that’s what it makes me do. It makes me concentrate and listen.”
Though more research is needed into exploring the relationship between chronic pain, reduced symptoms and a shared reading intervention, this initial study gives positive indication that further work can be established and could be extended to dialysis wards and other areas of physical health at Broadgreen and the Royal Hospitals. The shared reading group set up for the study at Broadgreen proved so popular that The Reader Organisation has been commissioned to run sessions there for the next three years.
‘An Evaluation of a Literature Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain’ is now available to download on our website, where more can be found out about our research projects with CRILS: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research
CRILS will be at Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference 2014, examining footage of shared reading groups in action as part of their AHRC funded research project on the cultural value of shared reading as opposed to other cultural activities. Places are still available for you to hear more about the relationship between literature, shared reading and its effects on individuals, communities and organisations at The British Library Conference Centre on Thursday 15th May: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/conference
The poetry of Christina Rossetti is a favourite at The Reader Organisation, with her work being featured in our Minted and Poems to Take Home anthologies and right here on The Reader Online. Over the years, many of her poems have also been read aloud in our Get Into Reading groups, including extracts from Goblin Market – one of her most famous works, published in 1862. The narrative poem tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who are drawn from their home by the call of goblin merchants, selling fruits of many kinds and colours:
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
While one of the sisters refrains, the other gives into the goblins’ temptation and a cautionary tale unfolds…
A new adaptation of Goblin Market has been put together and performed this summer by the award-winning Liverpool University Drama Society, featuring expressive movement, original poetry and a specially composed musical soundtrack – half of the proceeds of which are very kindly being donated to The Reader Organisation to help support our outreach work, allowing more people to enjoy the great words of Rossetti in future.
Goblin Market previewed at the Kazimier Gardens in Liverpool in July, and recently played to thrilled audiences at a week-long stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Composer and musician Alex Cottrell, who composed the soundtrack along with Dr Sarah Peverley from University of Liverpool, takes us through how he came to be involved in the production and the music-making process:
“Director Zoe Wiles made it clear from the beginning that she wanted the play to give an immersive experience, to set it amongst the audience as much as the stage itself. So that got me thinking that the soundtrack should possess an atmospheric quality, something that should bring it away from resting on top of the performance as mere mood music. By tapping on instruments, sliding fingers up and down strings, I tried to create an eerie sense of things skittering in the undergrowth of Goblin Market’s forest setting. These ‘soundscapes’ are prevalent throughout the whole play, often as a backdrop to indicate changes in setting or whilst other music plays.
Then we dealt with the story’s Goblin/Girls binary, representing them with distinct instruments and timbres, but still making them feel related or transformative of one another somehow. For the Girls it was the harp – pretty and almost innocent sounding. Many of the harp parts were written by Sarah Peverley (who also performed them all), including the ‘main theme’ which bookends the play. There’s also a harp-led Lullaby that the girls sing after the Goblins seduce Laura with their fruits – they both did an excellent job, particularly Beth (Lizzie) who has no formal training and had to do harmonies throughout.
For the Goblins it was the Balalaika – a Russian folk guitar giving a harsher, more tinny sound. When it’s played in that fast strumming style (some might remember it from Doctor Zhivago) it seems to quiver and can be quite unsettling with the right chords. It’s heard almost every time the Goblins appear and after a while starts to act as an alarm that they’re coming.
Finally there’s the dream sequence, where we reversed the recording of the Lullaby and had it act as part of an ‘echo’ in Laura’s dream; if you listen carefully you might recognise it.
The soundtrack album has 9 tracks on it, all professionally recorded for the Edinburgh performances, including a bonus piece called ‘Transitions’ created by myself and Sarah that was played during the interval. The Liverpool previews at The Kazimier Garden were a great success and I’d like to offer my thanks to the cast and crew for giving me a chance to be involved – let’s hope they seduced the Fringe festival with the fruits of their labour! Also, a final big thanks to Sarah Peverley who co-created the music with me and was just generally brilliant throughout the process – we are continuing to work together on a new music project, so watch this space.”
50% of the proceeds of the original soundtrack to Goblin Market will be donated to supporting The Reader Organisation’s work. The soundtrack costs £2.50 and can be bought here: www.alexcottrell.bandcamp.com/album/goblin-market – you can also take a listen to all of the tracks there before buying.