I came across the following article in the Guardian and think its well worth a read , its another good example of art /music / literature as a tool in mental well being .
Why a forensic psychiatrist describes the Get Into Reading project as the most significant development in mental health practice in the last 10 years
It's my life Clare Allan
On Friday (8 January), I'm going to Liverpool to take part in a conference organised by Get Into Reading, a hugely inspiring outreach programme run by The Reader Organisation, a charity dedicated to nothing less than bringing about "a reading revolution".
Get Into Reading is the brainchild of Jane Davis, founder and director of the Reader Organisation. As an 18-year-old single mother living on benefits, Davis discovered her local library, and never looked back. She believes that "books can save lives" – believes it so passionately that she has, in less than 10 years, created an extraordinary movement, with 150 groups now meeting weekly in hospitals, prisons, refugee centres, children's homes, libraries, YMCAs, day centres and homes for older people. They are spread throughout the north-west and London, with more springing up around the UK and a recent commission to develop the project in Australia.
These are not "book groups", where people come together to discuss a book they've read; they are reading groups, led by trained Get Into Reading project workers, who read the texts aloud, with group members joining in as much or as little as they wish. Interruptions are encouraged and often lead to spontaneous sharing of life experience.
Texts read include novels, short stories, poems, plays and works of non-fiction. And there's no dumbing down: Shakespeare, Chekhov and Milton have all been devoured, as well as works by contemporary writers such as Mitch Albom and Frank Cottrell Boyce.
This is what I find most exciting, and unusual, about Get Into Reading. It's the opening up of great literature, giving it back to the people who need it. And while nothing is prescribed, or proscribed, the emphasis is on "great" literature – Tolstoy, say, rather than Agatha Christie.
It's not that there's anything wrong with Agatha Christie, but neither is it snobbish to insist that Anna Karenina offers more to the reader in terms of enrichment than Murder on the Orient Express. The problem comes when such distinctions serve to make people feel that great literature isn't for them, that it belongs to academics in English departments, the north London literati, or even just the so-called "educated". Jane Davis left school at 16 with two GCSEs.
That's why I think the term "revolution" is wholly appropriate. The storming of what Doris Lessing has described as "a treasure house of literature" is every bit as significant as the storming of the Winter Palace. Time was I might have thought this an overstatement. We have free public libraries, after all. There is nothing to stop people reading great books. Or is there?
As a child of academic parents, it would never have occurred to me that I needed permission to read any book (TV was a different matter), but the mental health system is packed with people who have suffered their whole lives from the failure of others to recognise and respond to them as thinking, feeling, intelligent human beings. Parents, teachers and society in general have repeatedly reinforced the message that the doors to the treasure house are barred to the likes of them. Unfortunately, much mental health treatment does little to challenge it.
Thankfully, there are signs that this is starting to change. David Fearnley, a forensic psychiatrist at Ashworth high security hospital on Merseyside, runs a Get Into Reading group with patients. Books read include (delightfully) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Fearnley – the Royal College of Psychiatrists' 2009 Psychiatrist of the Year – is unambiguous about the benefits. "Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in Mersey Care NHS trust and mental health practice in the last 10 years," he says.
Last word, though, should go to a dementia sufferer, who commented on reading poetry: "It moves you. I mean, it hits you inside where it meets you and means something." It's a line the greatest of literary greats would rightly be proud to come up with.
• Clare Allan is an author and writes on mental health issues. Details of Get Into Reading at thereader.org.uk