Selecting the reading material

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This 5 minute podcast with supporting transcript gives a short example of selecting reading material to meet an individual's needs. 

1. Selection process

1. Will the person have time to read the story/poem within their daily routine? 2.  Is the resource endorsed in reviews  or opinions from a wider audience?  3.  Is the resource accessible and meaningful for a person at risk of exclusion - e.g. due to ethnicity, disability, social circumstances. 4.  Does the story/poem convey hope? Does it offer a resolution of the issue or way forward?  Is it available in appropriate medium e.g. graphic novel/audio?  Does the story/poem reflect the feelings, needs, interests and outcomes for this person?

2. Poetry as therapy

Poetry helps to explore feelings and memories buried in the subconscious and identify how they may relate to currently life circumstances.  Some features of poetry that make it effective as therapy include:

  • Poems are succinct but choose to arrange words to capture a wealth of emotions.  This makes them especially powerful in conveying meaning.
  • Discipline of the poem structure externalises and contains emotion so that it can be discussed more objectively..
  • The structure and rhythm of the poem acts in a similar way to music to engage our minds and emotions in a way that goes beyond usual communication.
  • Images and metaphors enable articulation of thoughts and emotions that can be challenging to express in normal communication.
  • Poems give a direct insight into the author’s feelings and so allow a connection to be made.
3. Novels and short stories as therapy

Novels and short stories can be effective as therapy because they:

  • Capture social and cultural context that people can relate to.
  • Show characters working to resolve a problem or situation in their lives.
  • Show characters achieving self-discovery, personal growth and change.
  • Convey characters’ internal and external lives, communicating thoughts and emotions in a way that readers can relate to.
  • Allow exploration of aspects of life that might otherwise be too frightening or overwhelming to discuss – e.g. through fantasy and supernatural novels.
  • Offer escapism and a fresh perspective, to view situations and emotions from a safe distance.
4. Graphic novels

Graphic novels can be good for people who:

  • Have low literacy
  • Have limited vocabularies – e.g. first language is not English or they have learning disabilities.
  • Don’t enjoy/ aren’t used to reading, but engage with the graphic format.

They bring to life characters who are struggling in a way that many readers can relate to and identify with.

5. Biography as therapy

Biography and autobiography can be good choices for people who prefer reading fact rather than fiction.

Biographies can be therapeutic because they help people to connect with the real-life experiences and emotions of another individual. They give  a real-life perspective on:

  • How even people who may appear successful or versy different on the surface experience similar struggles and problems that the person themselves is undergoing.
  • People encountering and dealing with challenges.
  • Coming to terms with, surviving and living with difficult situations.
  • Learning from mistakes as well as good choices.
  • Dealing with success and failure.
  • Experiencing personal growth and development.
  • Finding personal meaning through our lives and experiences.
6. Information non-fiction and self-help books

Sometimes non-fiction books that explore  personal, mental and emotional issues in more depth from a scientific and self-help perspective can be a useful follow-up to the insights gained through words for wellbeing sessions. 

For example, someone who has found Denise Levertov’s poem Talking to Grief  helpful in accepting as part of their life that the  parent they once knew seems lost to them through advanced Alzheimer’s,  may find it helpful to go on and read a book such as Pauline Boss’s Ambiguous Loss about dealing with unresolved grief.

7. Reading lists

See the Reading Lists section below which provides reading lists to support a wide range of issues and different groups of people.

8. Workbook exercise (2)

Workbook Workbook Exercise

Workbook exercise (2)

Choose one of the following scenarios and note in your workbook:

1)The questions you would ask this person to inform your choice of reading material.

2) What reading material you would recommend for this person, and why. Use the guidance above on how different types of reading provide therapeutic value and the reading lists in the following sections.

You can assume that there will be two or three words for wellbeing sessions for each person.

Scenario 1

Mrs Morgan is a lady in her 40’s who contacts you to discuss taking part in words for wellbeing sessions.  She explains that she is feeling stressed and overwhelmed by holding down a job while looking after two  children and acting as carer for her elderly mother who is steadily descending into dementia. Her husband of fifteen years left three years ago  and now has a new partner; she feels she cannot turn to him for support.

Scenario 2

You have advertised a series of lunchtime story cafes for 13-17 year olds. 10 people sign up to find out more.

Speaking to them about what they would like to get out of these sessions, you learn that many have felt isolated and anxious during the COVID pandemic. They are all experiencing the challenges of adolescence, including finding identity;  relationships with family and with boy/girl friends. There is a mix of ethnic backgrounds in the group and some refer to experiences of discrimination.

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