Literary Reading for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Research by Dr Josie Billington, Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS), has demonstrated that literary reading can provide an innovative and inexpensive alternative to pharmacological treatment for mental health conditions.

The Challenge 

At a time when the burden on mental health services is weightier than ever before in the 70-year history of the NHS, there is a pressing and widely acknowledged need for innovative, imaginative and readily accessible treatment options. Research undertaken by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) has shown that literary reading provides an inexpensive, humane and replicable alternative to costly pharmacological (and often ineffective) interventions. 

Research Action 

CRILS’ research has shown that group reading of fiction and poetry benefits people living with a range of mental health conditions, including depression, dementia and chronic pain. Literature offers a stimulus to buried emotional matter as well as a language in which to express it - a freedom of personal reflection and verbal realization not offered in the prescribed stages of a step-by-step top-down therapeutic agenda or self-help programme. Our findings have also demonstrated that literary reading produces a significant reduction in pain and dementia symptom severity and enhances well-being and quality of life.

Working in partnerships

We have collaborated closely with colleagues in Medicine and Psychology, and worked in partnership with NHS Trusts (Mersey Care, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals) and third sector organisations (UK charity, The Reader). Our research has been funded by the British Academy and Arts and Humanities Research Council and has recently fostered new international collaborations (Universities of Otago, NZ and West Chester, Penn, US).

Outputs and outcomes

Our research has led to the commissioning and implementation of shared literary reading for long-term mental health conditions in clinical and residential care contexts in the North-West and beyond. We have also translated our research findings into a suite of online educative and training materials for reading practitioners in the UK and internationally.

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