A contribution from Jennifer Strickland about her personal experience of creative bibliotherapy that describes what can happen in reading groups.
My own experience as a bibliotherapist
In 2013 I began working as a bibliotherapist on a two year secondment in West Yorkshire and most of my groups were for people experiencing dementia. I was always wary of choosing poems which the participants may have learned at school, but for my first session I chose ‘The Lion and Albert’ by Marriott Edgar because of its humour and rhythm. No sooner had I started when one member of the group (I’ll call him Stan) joined in. I stopped and let Stan carry on, he managed well over half of it and all by himself too.
The beauty of bibliotherapy is that the reading material is a tool which encourages conversation and these conversations can go off in all directions! For one session I chose the theme of food, after all everybody eats. Nigel Slater’s ‘Eating for England’ was great for this. I read to them about Jacobs Club Biscuits and we all sang the jingle ‘If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuits join our club…’ For some reason (I’m not sure how) we ended up talking about fish and chips and ‘warm ups’ (fish and chips left over from earlier, but were later ‘warmed up’ then sold); even I’d forgotten about those! I was given many recommendations of where to get the best fish and chips but sadly I have a feeling these places have long gone.
After my secondment I returned to my job running groups (including bibliotherapy) for adults with mental health issues, as well as working as a freelance bibliotherapist under ‘Better for Words’. I cannot emphasise enough how beneficial bibliotherapy can be and perhaps one day the cynics will give it the recognition it fully deserves.