An Evaluation of a Pilot Study of a Literature-Based Intervention with Women in Prison

This study, carried out by the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool, investigated the effect of Shared Reading on women in HMP Low Newton.

Four significant areas of improved well-being were found:

Social Well-being

The group encouraged greater integration of women on the Personality Disorder wing, providing a sense of support and an increase in personal confidence. The group enhanced social and communication skills, promoted respect for others’ views and tolerance of conflict of disagreement.

Emotional / Psychological Well-being

The group provided ‘disciplined relaxation’ – structured activity which acted as an escape from personal worries through absorption in the literature. The voluntary nature of the group meant that women felt motivated and committed to attending regularly and encourage strong mental and emotional engagement.

Educational Well-being

The group attracted women with a range of abilities, particularly helping those who lacked literacy skills, but also attracting high achievers for whom there is often little provision in prisons.

Organisational Well-being

Staff had their expectation of prisoners challenged by the demonstrable commitment and motivation to attend the groups, as well as members’ willingness to tackle ‘difficult’ books.

Robertson, J. and Billington, J. (2013)

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An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being

This one-year research study concluded that Shared Reading groups helped patients suffering from depression in terms of their social, mental, emotional and psychological well-being. The clinical data indicated that statistically significant improvements in the mental health of depressed patients had occurred during the 12-month period in which they had attended reading groups.

It found that there were four significant ‘mechanisms of action’ involved in the reading group intervention, three of which were essential to its success, the fourth influential:

  • A rich, varied, non-prescriptive diet of serious literature
  • The role of the group facilitator in making the literature ‘live’ in the room
  • The role of the group in offering support and a sense of community
  • The creation of stimulating, non-pressurised, non-judgemental atmosphere (‘not like school’, as one participant emphatically put it) overrode considerations of physical environment

The report also established what types of literature work, why they work and how they work in the specific context of depressive illness. 

Billington, J., Dowrick, C., Robinson, J., Hamer, A., Williams, C. (2011)

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A Literature-Based Intervention for Older People Living with Dementia

Funded by the Headley Trust, the conclusions of this six-month study found that the literature-based intervention provided by Shared Reading produces a significant reduction in dementia symptoms and benefits the quality of life of both the residents and staff carers.

The quantitative and qualitative research also found that short and long-term memory was positively influenced, listening skills were improved and the provision of activity by an external organisation enhanced patient care.

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An Evaluation of a Literature-Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain

Conducted in partnership with researchers from CRILS, Health Sciences at University of Liverpool, The Royal Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust and The Reader. Investigating whether Shared Reading as a literature-based intervention was beneficial for people with chronic pain when delivered in a clinical setting.

The study demonstrates the positive impact of Shared Reading on pain and psychological well-being. People living with complex and chronic pain benefited from absorbed concentration, a sense of shared community, comradeship and friendship, improved mood and quality of life. Shared Reading was found to alleviate some features of the condition with minimum risk of side effects.

Billington, J., Jones, A., Humphreys, A.L., McDonnell, K. (2014)

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Cultural Value: Assessing the intrinsic value of The Reader Organisation’s Shared Reading Scheme

Identifying the intrinsic value components of The Reader’s Shared Reading model as a specific participatory and voluntary experience, in creation of both individual meaningfulness and a strongly interactive small community. Also examined the relationship of this intrinsic value to collateral and secondary (theraputic, health, economic, social) benefits.

The report found that the cultural value of Shared Reading is established on the basis of a number of factors, including the multi-layered and humanising presence of literature in relation to personal contemplation triggered in areas of experience and meaning otherwise difficult to locate, and the formation of small-group communities in which the relation between private and public was closer than conventionally allowed.

Longden, E., Davis, P., Billington, J., Lampropoulou, S., Farrington, G., Magee, F., Walsh E., Corcoran, R. (2015)

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Read to Care: An Investigation into Quality of Life Benefits of Shared Reading Groups for People Living with Dementia

Investigating the impact that engaging in Shared Reading group activity had on participants with mild to moderate dementia in four care homes across Wirral.

The study paid particular consideration to: the use of powerfully emotional literature to trigger awakenings in people living with dementia; the value of literature in offering emotional experiences too often feared to be ‘negative’; the kind of memory that is stimulated by Shared Reading and the additional effect on relatives and carers. Shared Reading was found to significantly improve the quality of life for those living with dementia as well as providing valuable benefit to care workers and relatives in encouragement of remaining human possibilities.

Longden, E., Davis, P., Carroll, J., Billington, J. (2016)

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A Comparative Study of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Shared Reading for Chronic Pain

Comparing Shared Reading – The Reader’s literature-based intervention – to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as an intervention for chronic pain sufferers.

The investigation explores:

  1. the degree to which CBT and Shared Reading offer alternative treatment methods for alleviating the psychological symptoms of chronic pain
  2. how far Shared Reading might complement CBT by providing less programmatic and potentially more long-term follow-up to CBT.

Read the executive summary:

Billington, J., Farrington, G., Lampropoulou, S., McDonnell, K., Jones, A., Ledson, J., Humphreys, A-L., Lingwood, J., Duirs, N., Holloway, C. and Smart, B. (2016)

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What Literature Can Do: An investigation into the effectiveness of Shared Reading as a whole population health intervention

Investigating the impact of Shared Reading on mental health and well-being in the four boroughs of Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark. 

One Shared Reading group member says that literature is not just “talking about” feelings, but actually “doing feelings” – getting into them and re-experiencing them in another form. Shared Reading is about re-experiencing life from off the page, and as a result, being useful to the lives of it’s group members.

Davis, P., Magee, F., Koleva, K., Tangeras, T.M., Hill, E., Baker, H., and Crane, L. (2016)

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