Bibliotherapy for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
- Start date: 1 January 2010
- End date: 31 December 2020
- Funder: Internal: Arts Engaged Impact and Innovation Support Fund 2012; Leverhulme ISSF Small Grant 2016.
- Primary investigator: Dr Sam Durrant
Partners and collaborators
SOLACE (Leeds psychotherapy and advocacy refugee charity), RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service), STAR (Student Action for Refugees), Leeds Central Libraries, Refugee Forum
Helen Kingstone, Rachel Webster, Christine Chettle, Sreya Datta, Dima Chami, Naomi Popple, Harriet Shepherd, Ruth Daly, April Rose-Geers
My research on the therapeutic potential of literature as a way of working through trauma led to the creation of a unique model of bibliotherapy designed primarily for refugees. This model was developed during a two year pilot study (2010-12) in collaboration with SOLACE, a Leeds counselling and advocacy charity for refugees. This initial bibliotherapy group was led by myself and a trained counsellor. Two further groups were set up with Leeds Libraries and the Leeds branch of Student Action for Refugees. All three groups ran until 2019, meeting bi-weekly, and one group continues to meet. While Durrant continues to oversee the project, the meetings are run by postgraduate volunteers. Meetings are typically for two hours, divided between an hour reading aloud and discussing a poem and an hour reading consecutive sections from a novel (which may take many months to complete). The aim of the meetings is to produce an empathetic sense of community, designed to overcome the feelings of alienation and isolation that many refugees experience. The affective dimensions of the literature that is read, and of the process of reading aloud/being read to, resonate with the emotional lives of the refugees in multiple ways, encouraging the sharing of their experience. This sense of shared community enhances the well-being of refugees and helps mitigate some of the negative states of mind that are associated with refugee experience, such as isolation, anxiety, and depression. Many refugees go on to produce their own creative writing. Our practice differs from normative bibliotherapy models practiced in the NHS in two major respects: 1) the reading is carried out as a group and out loud, allowing for a much more embodied, physically present group experience, led and structured by the group leaders; 2) the literature is not chosen for the relevance of its content but for the ways in which it encourages imaginative engagement and identification. GP models of bibliotherapy tend to prescribe books on a topic relevant to the patient's own experience, while the aim of this mode of bibliotherapy is to encourage imaginative engagement with other lives and experiences.
The project was one of four School of English Impact Case Studies in REF2014, jointly awarded a 3.5 star rating. Impact was measured both in terms of the impact on the well-being of the refugees and the imbedding of bibliotherapy was a sustainable pratice in partner institutions.
Publications and outputs
• Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris and Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. Paperback edition published 2006. https://www.sunypress.edu/p-3868-postcolonial-narrative-and-the-.aspx
• “Reading Asylum.” Moving World: A Journal of Transcultural Writings 11.2 (2012): 44-56.
• The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism. Co-edited with Gert Beulens and Robert Eaglestone. Routledge, 2013. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9780203493106
• Refugee Imaginaries: Research Across the Humanities. Co-edited with Emma Cox, David Farrier, Lyndsey Stonebridge and Agnes Wooley. EUP, 2020. https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-refugee-imaginaries.html