Let me tell you a story : the Reading for Recovery project

This is another guest post from Julie Cresswell, one of our ex BCU mental health nursing students who is now a qualified staff nurse. (This is Julie’s second guest post – see her earlier post here)

Following a comment from a member of staff regarding the lack of reading material on our acute ward, I decided to raise funds by running the Birmingham half marathon in 2008.  We raised around £200 in sponsorship and also held a ‘Reading for Recovery’ party where friends were asked to ‘bring a book’ to donate to the ward.  100 books of all genres from classic novels to biographies were donated.  I also approached celebrities who have some connection to mental health awareness and received around a dozen donations.

A local blind gentleman who heard about the initiative donated a large amount of talking books for client’s who had difficulties reading or concentrating on the written word.  We were also able to purchase books to be used with clients to encourage them to share their experience of mental illness and material to further staff’s personal development and broaden their knowledge of areas such as substance abuse, managing diabetes and cognitive behavioural therapy.

We now have an in-patient Reading Group.  The aim of this group is to hold regular sessions where the written word (sometimes short stories, sometimes poetry) provides service users with the opportunity to read aloud, listen to others, interpret themes and more often than not, participate in lively debate!  I have found that the groups can be cathartic for some clients, tears are not uncommon and can reignite an interest in reading or the discovery of their own talents in story-telling or creative writing.

Clients often make special requests for further sessions to explore a particular poet/poem or writer.  I have also learnt so much in researching such information and the lively debate that it often invokes..…one that comes to mind is the theory that Shakespeare’s sonnets were focussed around a man, rather than a woman.  This session raised issues of sexuality, religion and how words can be interpreted at one point in history and reinterpreted in today’s world.  A contemporary story by Michael Faber about a ‘safe haven’ where the people that stayed there had their life histories printed on their shirts, prompted a lively debate about stereotyping. The most popular books that client’s read away from the group are autobiographies and special interest books such as militaria or sport.   

Research tells us that service users are not satisfied with the level of interaction with staff on acute wards.  In addition, boredom is often cited as a primary concern.  Our Reading group tackles both issues.  The Group has read texts as diverse as Chekov, Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth to Benjamin Zephaniah.  My hope is that the service users who enjoy the group benefit in some way, whether they are empowered by the words they read, distracted for a short time from their difficulties, comforted or indeed grow in their confidence when mixing with others.

Images from Flickr creative commons

1. Books by Faryan

2. Leamos/ Let’s read by annais

3. Benjamin Zephaniah by jessallen823

5 thoughts on “Let me tell you a story : the Reading for Recovery project

  1. Hey Andy and Julie:

    Very interesting post on fighting boredom and progressing recovery with reading groups! I was recently speaking with a mental healthcare consumer and he expressed a similar malcontent with the American Clubhouse Model for mental health recovery, stating that its great to be in an area where people can all understand what you are going through, but he hated just sitting around and being unproductive.

    The Recovery model in America tries to integrate the Clubhouse with empowerment and pushing clients towards finding appropriate employment opportunities, etc. but often times this comes after a decent amount of time spent in the clubhouse.

    Perhaps I will look into starting a book club for consumers not yet ready to progress towards employment but itching to do something meaningful and productive.

    I was wondering though, and this is aimed at both Andy and Julie, what is your take on the Recovery Movement? I only ask because the title of the posting made me curious as to whether this was something focused in on the Recovery approach or just for recovery in general.

    I actually just recently submitted several articles to ezinearticles about cultural differences in Recovery-based approaches, but I’d love to hear your take on it.

    I know your all very busy, but if you do find time to reply if you don’t mind I might like to quote your posting in my new blog, Mental Health Recovery if that is alright with you. If not then of course I’d be perfectly alright with carrying on any conversation we have right here 🙂

    Hope the day is going well! Can’t wait to speak more on the subject with you 🙂

    Warm Regards,
    Lex Douvasa
    Mental Health Recovery Blog

  2. Hello Lex

    Thanks for the comment about the post & welcome to the tea party.

    I had a quick look at some of the stuff linked to on Mental Health Recovery. I suspect that you are coming at things from a very different angle to most people on this side of the Atlantic.

    My understanding of recovery ideas here is that it has a much more grass roots/ service user focus & the idea of using ” logic modeling and statistical expertise to insure reliability and validity of the data modelling” (See this link http://www.reachingrecovery.org/ )- would be quite a suprising one.

    That said, I would be very interested to hear more about this & if you want to do a guest post to explain how you see things we can let everyone make their own minds up.

    Sorry this is a v quick response but I will pass this on to others to see what they think & I will look forward to hearing more about this.

    Best wishes

    Andy Walsh

  3. Hi Lex, thank you for your interest in this article. ‘Recovery’ in the context of this group is about ‘being with’ other individuals and all of the positive consequences of this – alleviating boredom, increasing confidence and self esteem, making friends and enjoying an activity with in-patient staff that is not clinically focused.

    I found via the link to your site that the organization you represent ( Mental Health Center of Denver) highlight the ‘ultimate goal of Reaching Recovery is to learn what works for what group of consumers, and under what specific conditions, so we can transform mental health centers into a recovery oriented and outcomes driven system.’

    To be honest, my first reaction was bemusement – mental health clients as ‘consumers’ or ‘outcomes’ – so very American….. but with deeper thought and less stereotyping (sorry!?), perhaps the UK system would benefit from such a quantitative approach. (As long as the already administratively challenged in-patient nurse was not expected to collate such statistics !!)

    In practical terms, I am really interested how all of the possible variables in the journey of recovery could ever be measured. I would like such a study to look at who is failing the ‘revolving door’ (returning) clients?

    -Is it the failure of the in-patient nursing, medical and other involved professionals to effectively assess, plan, implement treatment and evaluate the care we deliver before discharge clients back into society?
    -Is it the lack of continuity of care once a client is discharged whereby the community mental health teams fail to engage, monitor and progress community care plans adequately?
    -Is the failure of the other teams involved such as housing, benefits, employers and primary care providers to support people with mental health problems?
    -Is it the failure of families and carers who are not offering enough or the right support to their family member?
    -Is it the fault of the client who disengages with services or refuses to stay away from the situations and substances that predispose themselves to relapse ?
    -Is it the fault of the media who stigmatise those with mental health problems?
    -Is it the failure of the Government to adequately fund services for people with mental health problems or the Act’s of Parliament that provide the framework for care delivery?

    ……and so on…..that’s one BIG research project.

    Among the most useful documents around ‘recovery’ I have come across are ‘Strategies for Living’(2000) from the Mental Health Foundation here in the UK that highlighted the strategies that client’s felt were most important in their own care, and Patricia Deegan’s 2001 ‘Recovery as a journey of the heart.’ She highlights that recovery is an ‘attitude, a stance, and a way of reclaiming meaning and purpose in life. Each person’s journey of recovery is unique.’ When I work with clients, there appear to be five main elements that contribute to their journey towards recovery, finding a treatment plan they that have been involved in formulating and are in agreement with, having somewhere to live, the means to survive (£), having something meaningful (to the client) to do and someone to do it with ! A massive oversimplification……..funnily enough they are all of the things I want in my life, these mental health clients, not so different from you and me are they?

  4. My blog is the ‘e-story’ of Planet Psychotherapy. Planet Psychotherapy is a big fat experiment being conducted by one country’s healthcare elite. It is an interesting experiment but like all experiments it pretends that everything is clean and controlled. Read from the archives first (start with chapter 1) and then the latest post to see the dirty reality. I will post new chapters about every week or so.


  5. Thank you for the facebook email and message, on recovery from so-called mental health problems. Recovery, is a reciprocal relationship, between both abstract and especially applied knowledge, data, and information, within both mental health services and society, and the which involves shared learning between the service users, mental health systems, and society. This reciprocal relationship, is a democratic activity and process. On the matter or question, of whether recovery offers people false hopes, or whether we should fight and argue for better lives, this is all linked to how and what we learn from those psychiatric diagnosed people who have recovered, and those who haven’t, and which discrepancies and links are provided between the two groups, within services, and society. If false hopes, are those hopes and needs, which are not recoginsed or integrated within society, then they may be considered as false. On the other hand, if these hopes are based upon thorough and objective practice, education, and research, and the continuing process of that, and applied and put into action within services and society, then they are according to that process, very achievable and realistic.

    Peter H. Donnelly

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