Reading as a therapy: the story of L
Get Into Reading
Get Into Reading aims to build community through reading. We run a number of projects and currently hold over 50 weekly reading groups across Merseyside.
Get Into Reading groups meet weekly in libraries and community centres, giving people who might not normally think of joining a reading group a chance to enjoy stories and poems together. The aim of the project is to improve well-being, extend appreciation of literature and build community, targeting hard-to-reach people across Wirral and Liverpool.
Get Into Reading is delivered by The Reader and University of Liverpool, in partnership with Wirral Libraries, Birkenhead and Wallasey PCT and Job Centre Plus. Get Into Reading is funded by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
For more information, visit http://www.getintoreading.org/.
Case study: The story of L
L is in her thirties and her first contact with Get Into Reading was when she rang after seeing a poster in St Catherine’s Psychological Services Department.
When she first arrived at the group she was visibly shaking, couldn’t make eye contact with anyone and couldn’t talk to the other people in the group. Nevertheless, she continued to attend, rarely missing a session and it was clear that she valued the group highly.
L eventually revealed that attending the Get Into Reading group was actually the first thing she’d been able to come out to independently for 18 months, since the death of her mother. Previous to her mother’s death, L had suffered with depression for several years and had eventually had major breakdown. She was given medication and several courses of therapy, lasting 16 months in total, but feels that she only really began to improve when she joined her Get Into Reading group. This was a safe haven, where she was allowed to remain quiet for as long as she liked, but gradually, over the course of a year, she began to join in, improving to the point that she was eventually able to join in a 50-strong GIR coach trip to Manchester Royal Exchange to see Pete Postlethwaite in The Tempest. She was very anxious on the coach, surrounded by so many people, but she was delighted that she’d been able to do it. Her rising confidence levels also allowed her to take on a few hours voluntary work at a local Oxfam shop.
L is now about to return to employment, after six years of being unable to work.
Before joining her GIR group, L hadn’t read for 3 or 4 years because of concentration problems, though reading had previously been a very important part of her life. After she saw the notice advertising the ‘Feel Better With A Book’ group at X Library, it was some weeks before she could pluck up the courage to ring and further weeks before she was able to go along, initially accompanied by her dad , though she now says she wishes she’d come across it much earlier.
She says the fact that it was local – in her immediate community – helped, and also that the group was small. She liked the quiet, gentle atmosphere and the fact that there was absolutely no pressure to join in – it immediately felt therapeutic. As she puts it: ‘the group gives you maximum pleasure – in both the people and the book you’re reading – with minimum stress. The knowledge that you don’t have to do anything is very important, but then trust begins to build and you’re able to share personal feelings with the group, so that they end up knowing more about you than friends you’ve known for years. You can say what you want and you know they’ll understand.’
L had waited 3 years for therapy and then had 16 months of counselling, CBT and psychotherapy. She says that some of the therapy did help her with relaxation techniques, but she often felt that therapists were looking for pieces of jigsaw puzzle to make a picture that wasn’t her – they were judging her and putting her in a box.
She feels that the two things that have made her well are GIR and her voluntary work at Oxfam – though she says she wouldn’t have been able to do the latter without GIR. GIR helps because it’s holistic and non-judgemental. ‘It helps you to forget yourself and opens up your eyes to what’s out there.’
L was shown the above case study for her approval and read it aloud to her husband:
‘That was what you were like’, he said, ‘that sums you up’. L agreed, but says that thanks to GIR her life’s changed so much ‘it’s like reading about a different person’.