Shared reading (SR) — a literature-based intervention — can be a useful therapy for people suffering with chronic pain, according to a new study at the University of Liverpool in England. By engaging the whole person through literature, the treatment helps patients become consciously aware of and able to confront their deeper emotions related to chronic pain.
The researchers believe the therapeutic benefits of shared reading can extend even beyond those of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a treatment that has traditionally helped patients change their awareness of pain and develop stronger coping skills.
“Our study indicated that shared reading could potentially be an alternative to CBT in bringing into conscious awareness areas of emotional pain otherwise passively suffered by chronic pain patients,” said study leader Dr. Josie Billington from the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature, and Society (CRILS).
“The encouragement of greater confrontation and tolerance of emotional difficulty that Sharing Reading provides makes it valuable as a longer-term follow-up or adjunct to CBT’s concentration on short-term management of emotion.”
The SR model is based on small groups (up to 12 people) coming together weekly to read aloud literature, such as short stories, novels, or poetry. The reading material ranges across genres and period, and is chosen for its intrinsic interest, not pre-selected with a particular “condition” in mind.
Regular pauses are taken to encourage participants to reflect on what is being read, on the thoughts or memories the literature has stirred, or on how the reading matter relates to their own lives.
Shared reading is used in a range of environments that have similarities with chronic pain, in that the conditions involved can often be chronic and unsolvable — for example, in the case of dementia, severe mental illness or for those in prison.
For the study, people with severe chronic pain symptoms were recruited by the pain clinic at Broadgreen NHS (National Health Service) Hospital Trust. A five week CBT group and a 22-week SR group for chronic pain patients ran in parallel, with CBT group-members joining the SR group after the completion of CBT.
The researchers found that although CBT allowed participants to exchange personal histories of living with chronic pain in ways which validated their experiences, the CBT participants focused exclusively on their pain with ‘no thematic deviation’.
In SR, by contrast, the literature was a trigger to recall and express many diverse life experiences — of work, childhood, family members, relationships — related to the entire life-span, not merely the time period affected by pain. This in itself has a potentially therapeutic effect in helping to recover a whole person, not just an ill one.
The findings are published in the Journal for Medical Humanities.
Source: University of Liverpool