Hello again, dearest ECRAG members!
This month we had the great pleasure of Polly Wright hosting a very interactive session on “Reading for Well Being” (RFwB) as part of our series of talks for this year. Polly has worked as a teaching fellow for Skills and Literature at the University of Birmingham, as the Artistic Director at the HEARTH centre (centre for health education and the humanities with art at the heart), as well as being a published short story writer and playwright.
The session began in our traditional format, with an ice-breaker question. This month’s ice-breaker question fit in perfectly with the session; “Can you speak more than one language? And, which language would you like to learn to speak?” Some of our attendees were fluent in Urdu, Punjabi and Kenyan-dialects, a few reminisced about their time in French school, whereas others yearned for the opportunity to brush up on their Spanish, Italian and…Emoji which is one of the fastest growing language in the world at the moment. Or, so I’m told.
Promptly after the ice-breaker questions, Polly began the session by reading out a poem and asking ECRAG members to share their reflections. The poem was titled “Everything changes” by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). ECRAG members discussed the main themes emerging from the poem, namely expressions of acceptance and taking a different perspective on events. Polly explained how poems and short stories can be used in a similar fashion to elicit group discussions with patients and/or participants in research. For example, someone experiencing chronic illness.
Polly demonstrated RFwB by having ECRAG members read and discuss the poem. She then explained how RFwB gets people talking about specific life events and taking part in a community/group discussion. There are other ways to illicit discussions on, what maybe at times, sensitive subjects. Another example is through applied arts work, in particular the theatre. Scenes can be set up, acted and re-enacted for viewers to discuss emerging issues. In this manner, drama can be used as a method of research, where findings have the potential to inform policy changes, e.g. the impact of mixed race identities, mental health and the clashes with the legal system.
But coming back to our main focus, RFwB is a facilitator led intervention, where poems and short stories are read out and sometimes interrupted when new characters are introduced/after the introduction to ask people what they feel. This is similar to a ‘stop and start’ soap-opera, where participants can stop/rewind/select a section of the poem or story and are encouraged to engage in self-reflection. Sometimes mental health groups will go through an entire novel, with weekly reflections on character development.
RFwB can be used with a range of health support staff and audiences, including; nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers, teachers, hospice staff, medical students and doctors, for people who experience mental ill health, carers, old people, community groups and the general public through adult education.The benefits of RFwB include reduction in isolation, confidentiality, contribution: personal preference, confidence building: trained to read out aloud, and creative writing: therapeutic intervention. Polly shared one of her experiences of carrying out an RFwB sessions, where one participant related herself to Miss Havisham from Great Expectations (Charles Dickens), a character who is a jilted lover left at the altar and remains in her wedding clothes for the next 30 years. The participant reported feelings of anger which she wanted to let go.
Polly has also used these methods with Governmental/ NGO ‘Time to change’ to overcome stigma and discrimination in mental health and social contact. A general model was applied to the project where participants related personal experiences, promote change and encourage tolerant attitudes. Polly outlined the findings of how effective the activity was in showing how i) stigma and discrimination might effect people with mental health problems, ii) people can recover from mental health problems and iii) mental health problems are not a sign of weakness.
One of the popular pieces of text used in the RFwB sessions is Kafka’s metamorphosis in turning into a cockroach. Participants relate to this surreal experience of one day feeling completely fine and the next being completely changed. Popular texts written by Edgar Allen Poe and Rumi have also been applied. When working in the Med School, Polly invites students to bring their own poems that can be used for an RFwB session and is often surprised by the variety of material suitable for training scenarios.
The session ended with two more tasks, firstly briefly reading a poem brought to Polly’s attention by a Med student and secondly discussing “In a white town” by Daljit Nagra. The latter poem elicited feelings of empathy from ECRAG members, who reflected on their own experiences.
This was a unique session, unlike any other at ECRAG. We encourage members to contact Polly for more information and visit the HEARTH website as well. If you would like a copy of the slides, please email one of the co-chairs.
HEART Centre: http://thehearthcentre.org.uk/
See you soon!