Feel better with a book

‘Feel Better With A Book’ is a bibliotherapy project, which involves reading aloud within a group.

The aim of ‘Feel Better With A Book‘ (pdf link) in South West Essex, which has been running since mid 2009, is to help improve the wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem of mental health patients and other vulnerable people through the development of reading activities in groups.

Adrian Faiers, who is leading the project for NHS South West Essex, says: “Get Into Reading has become a national flagship for therapeutic read aloud groups and we are delighted to bring a similar programme to South West Essex.

“Feel Better With A Book has already had a considerable impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It helps those with mental health issues, those who are vulnerable and those who feel isolated to build social networks and feel more a part of the community.

“The programme works because it offers continuity and inclusivity, it is safe and is mutually supportive.”

Adrian Ure, who is leading the project for Essex Libraries, says: “We have had excellent feedback from people who have taken part in the Feel Better With A Book programme.

“One service user has told us ‘It has opened my mind, and being in a reading group has encouraged me and others in the group to talk about the different styles of literature and be and feel part of a whole’. Another said ‘the tea break helps us all to reflect on the discussion of the story or poem we have all read together and we all enjoy each other’s company.”

Funded by NHS South West Essex, Essex Libraries set up Feel Better With A Book groups, building on the model established by The Reader Organisation. The project is run in partnership with Mind, Rethink, as well as community mental health teams.

Five groups have been set up in South West Essex since June 2009, at Pitsea Library, Wickford Library, Brentwood Library, Fryerns Library and Laindon Library. The Fryerns group aims to support the wellbeing of older people and is built on previously held community tea parties for members.

Lasting a maximum of two hours, the groups meet weekly. Stories and poems are read aloud by a trained facilitator, with members joining in as they wish. As time goes on, members spontaneously share their thoughts, experiences and life stories. There is a wide range of books included and, in addition, self-help books are offered by libraries under a separate bibliotherapy scheme known as Get Your Life Back, also funded by NHS South West Essex.

The groups initially meet in mental health day centres, with the aim of transferring to the local library at the appropriate time, to encourage the integration of mental health service users into the community.

Once the groups are established in the local library, they are opened to new members from the local community, subject to a total of 10 participants in any group.

The success of the programme is being continually evaluated to show the health and social care benefits and the impact of read aloud groups on the wellbeing of those with mental health issues and of other vulnerable people.

What readers have said:

“It’s great being in this group. Everyone chips in their ideas. Half of them would never have occurred to me if I was reading on my own!”

“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.”