In January and February I attended a 3-day “Read to Lead” training course delivered by The Reader Organisation and aimed at giving attendees the skills to facilitate group sessions that connect group members with literature and, through literature, with each other. Attending the training has inspired me to branch out a little and start a new Words for Wellbeing group which combines me reading aloud to the group with writing for wellbeing.
I’ve done 2 of these new groups so far in a mental health ward that I haven’t worked in before – one that accomodates mainly over 65s, some of whom have dementia. In the first session I led a 40-minute writing session followed by reading aloud an extract from Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. My idea was that some extra patients might want to come to listen to the story who weren’t interested in writing. In the event, I had one patient in the writing session and the same person was joined by one other patient for the reading session. We did the writing in the ward activities room and the reading in a small lounge. Because of the mix of patients on the ward I wasn’t surprised that only one patient came along to write with me, but I had hoped for more than 2 patients listening when I read the story.
On reflection I decided I might have more success if I did the reading aloud at the start, with as many patients as I could recruit, and do the writing second. So, that’s what I did today. The staff helped me to encourage patients to sit with me in the main lounge (a better idea than the small lounge as several patients were already in there) and listen to an extract of a story. I read an extract from Mr Pickwick by Charles Dickens to a group of 4 patients: 3 women who are considerably older than I am, and one woman who is considerably younger than I. Everyone sat quietly and appeared to be listening while I read. One woman did her knitting at the same time. I encouraged a little discussion when I finished reading but no-one seemed to be keen to talk about the story. One woman said she used to read a great deal when she was younger but that she preferred crime fiction. This gave me the idea to read part of a Lilian Jackson Braun “Cat who…” story another time. Another woman said she hadn’t really been able to follow the story but that she hadn’t minded sitting with us and, I suppose, letting my voice wash over her (fine by me). The younger woman said she remembered reading part of Mr Pickwick years ago, and the fourth woman didn’t offer an opinion. This may not sound much of a success to you, but I feel very encouraged. I think that if I can pick the right story I might get a bit of a discussion going another time.
The younger woman joined me for half an hour of writing in the activities room. She has some negative thoughts, is moderately depressed and I think is feeling quite confused. She is also lacking in concentration, as many mental health inpatients are. I reassured her that her concentration level wouldn’t be a problem. I decided that mindful writing would be the most helpful for her at present so we started with some mindful writing – in this case writing to describe a landscape photograph. The second exercise was designed to elicit a positive memory – we wrote about a snowy day we remembered enjoying in the past. The patient managed the writing very well. She has taken some paper, a pen and a handout about mindful writing. Hopefully she will do some more writing outside of the session. I have recommended that she do 2-3 minutes of mindful writing every day.
I will post the mindul writing handout separately.
Best wishes, Carol.