There's a lot to be said for this scheme - at least it's not drug lead and it gets people into their local library - but (and, in my view, it's a big 'but') I am disappointed with the range of books on offer. They are all self-help books, the majority Cognitive Behavioural Therapy oriented. Of course, self-help and CBT books have their place, but they are by no means the only books which can support people find a way forward. Where is the poetry? Where is the fiction?
In research, it has been found that both reading and writing poetry and fiction can assist people to feel more confident about themselves, as well as gain a wider perspective on their experiences and other people's behaviour. Neuroscientists have identified what have been termed 'mirror neurones'. These are neurones in our brain which are activated when we see an emotional response in another person and they govern our response. So if we see someone who is upset, the activation of our 'mirror neurones' mean we will also feel upset, we will feel empathy. The same activation of 'mirror neurones' has been found to happen when people read about a particular emotion in a poem or a piece of prose.
Neel Mukherjee, shortlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize, suggests: ‘What should the novel do: be a mirror to the reader’s world, reflecting it back at her, or be a clear pane of glass, not reflecting but offering something away from the self, a vista of a bigger, wider, different world outside? The moral energy of the novel form derives from its capacity to imagine the lives of others. This empathy can be seen as the beginning of the moral sense.’
Reading groups for people who are dealing with emotional and psychological distress have been found to aid recovery. Yes, there is the sharing within the group which (when carefully handled) is therapeutic, as is the act of getting out into a different environment, meeting new people. But the reading itself can encourage a sharing and an understanding of experiences, along with an empathy for self and others. Often, when people are beset by depression and anxiety it is the empathy for self which is woefully missing.
What a shame then, that people cannot be 'prescribed' Staying Alive (Bloodaxe Books) a wonderful anthology of poetry about and by those who have struggled through loss, illness, depression and the other emotional challenges life throws at us. Yes, open up for people the idea of strategies and coping mechanisms, but also put before them the treasures of poetry and prose which can give a much needed 'window' or 'mirror' to ourselves, our experiences and our world.
What is your favourite prose work or poem which you have used in the therapeutic space?
At SCPTI we want to encourage ourselves and all practitioners to work creatively. We have CPD workshops coming up in the Autumn in narrative therapy; art therapy and creative writing. Please see our CPD tab for more information.