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Bibliotherapy: A Tool for Addressing Employee Mental Health
Looking for ways to enhance the mental health of your employees? Bibliotherapy is an inexpensive option.
Books and Their Impact
Tom speculates that everyone has read at least one book that influenced their lives.
Some Charities are “Spending Down”
Charities that donate to others and that have with high reserves are under pressure to distribute those reserves. Tom adds to his earlier reflections on this movement.
Board Training Uncovers a Mishmash Board and Time Vampires
When people get together to participate in Board training, they bring their own experience, and sharing it makes that training better. Tom explains in this Blast from the Past from 2015.
Most organizations have a stated goal of addressing and fostering the mental health of their employees.
So far, so good. But exactly how are they going to achieve that goal? Here is one idea: bibliotherapy!
To explain, we turned to long-time colleague Jennine Agnew-Kata of the Literacy Network of Durham Region (LiNDR). She tells us that bibliotherapy is:
“… a non-clinical, developmental intervention that promotes connectedness and wellbeing through guided reading groups. In addition to providing a social arena for the discussion of literature and poetry as it pertains to self-reflection, it can also assist individuals in addressing mental, physical, emotional, developmental or social challenges.”
Okay, so it can help with mental health issues, but how does it work?
“In the bibliotherapy model, reading selections are used to create topic-related group sessions that address specific life circumstances and promote hope and resilience through contemplation, conversation and discussion. It is a model that works particularly well to reduce social isolation.
Each bibliotherapy group is facilitated by a trained bibliotherapist/reading facilitator who selects and reads relevant reading material (poetry, prose, non-fiction and music lyrics) to address the identified theme or topic of the group and guides open, illuminating post-reading discussions with participants. The program is suitable for any level of reader and is designed to be inclusive, supportive and uplifting.”
Jennine advises that group size is up to 10 participants, that the sessions can be one-offs or go on for a few weeks, that each session lasts about an hour and that they can be held in person or on-line.
Jennine’s assertion about enhancing mental wellbeing is supported by an article in Canada’s Walrus magazine titled: Textual Healing: The Novel World of Bibiotherapy”:
“Despite bibliotherapy’s lower profile in Canada, a growing body of research points fairly clearly to its potential. University of Toronto cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley and York University psychologist Raymond Mar have explored the role fiction can play for people seeking to enhance their social skills or mental well-being. In 2011, Mar found an overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and those used to infer the mental states of other people. His findings suggest that literature—fiction in particular—can ignite the parts of the brain that process how others think and feel. The hope, then, is that, if bibliotherapy can trigger those reactions, it can help us better understand others and improve our lives.”
The BIG Idea
Inexpensive. Supported by research. My BIG IDEA for this week is to consider adding bibliotherapy to your organization’s employee mental health toolbox. If you are a human service provider, it can also be used in assisting your clientele to overcome challenges like social isolation.
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The concept of bibliotherapy got me thinking about books and their impact. I am guessing we all have at least one that made a difference in our lives and perhaps that we go back to for reminder and renewal. Which helps our mental health, right?
For me that might be the Myth of Sisyphus by Algerian/French writer Albert Camus. Camus lauds Sisyphus for his love of this world, and thus for his refusal to return to the land of the dead, as the gods had decried. Hence the gods sentenced him to eternally rolling a rock up a mountain, whereupon the rock rolls back down, and he too must return and push it up again. Forever.
Out of this story we can extract the guidance that Camus offered up again and again in his writing: Focus on now. Love this world. Embrace it. Immerse yourself in it, it’s all you’ve got. Use it up. Quantity over quality. And when faced with adversity, be bigger than your rock.
The BIG Idea
My BIG IDEA is to cast your mind back to books you have read and the impact they have had on your life. If there is even one that made a difference, that made you feel better, that gave you solace, that pointed the way forward or impacted your world view, that you look back on fondly, that maybe someone gave you, then the basic premise of bibliotherapy has been verified.
A BIG IDEAS reader sends a link to a Globe and Mail article admonishing charities to distribute more of their reserves. Apparently, it’s becoming a movement and that movement is called “spending down”.
This is a topic I addressed in an article back in December. I commented: “No one would dispute that we need more of the services that charities provide our communities. Undoubtedly the money would be well spent. The question comes down to prudence. How much should charities distribute while maintaining their longer-term capacity to exist and finance good work?”
I still think that is still the crux of the issue, although the Globe writer suggested that: “It’s time we had faith in the next generation of business leaders and owners to raise future philanthropic capital. We need to move toward a mindset of strength and abundance rather than a mindset of fear – of not having enough or holding on to resources forever.”
Maybe so. There’s no doubt the rich get richer and if they then contribute some of their wealth to charities, there can be lots coming into the coffers.
No one questions the need is there for spending on a range of worthy causes. The pandemic revealed wide gaps between what exists and what is needed in many areas of our society, including long term care, poverty and mental health. We all know too, that governments aren’t going to step up because that would mean tax increases and no politician gets elected by putting their hand in citizens’ pockets.
The BIG Idea
My BIG IDEA is not to worry too much about “spending down”. Most non-profits and charities have modest reserves that are already designated for specific purposes. On the other hand, if the biggies start doling out money, you may benefit, so keep your eyes open for those opportunities.
Blast from the Past is comprised of earlier BIG IDEAS that you may have missed the first time around and that contain brilliant (our word) and helpful (hopefully your word) insights into the sometimes quirky (our word) world of non-profits. This article is from 2015
The basic idea of my Board training is that I bring knowledge of non-profit Boards and how they should operate, and that the people attending benefit when I share that information.
Which is correct…at least as far as it goes.
But there is another dynamic at work when people get together for my Board training: They share their own experiences. This makes the process richer and more useful.
So it was on Saturday, when I spent the day in Haliburton with Board members from a number of organizations, at a training session sponsored by Community Living Haliburton County. Other participants included FoodNet Network, Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trails Association, Canoe FM Radio Station, Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library and Minden and Haliburton Food Banks.
The day got off on the right foot when we discussed Board models. I explained that Boards of Directors could adopt a model that would give focus to the work of the Board. Popular models include Policy Boards, Policy Governance or Carver Boards, Administrative/Management/Operating Boards (Working Boards) and Planning Boards.
Then one participant started talking about her organization. It had been through a lot in the last few years. The Board had completed a review of everything the organization did. While the Directors felt they were definitely coming out the other side, they recognized that a lot remained to be done. And until those actions were completed, the Board would be doing a bit of this and a bit of that. So it was that she thought they were a Mishmash Board. Mishmash…we all wrote that down.
Another topic was Board meetings and how to make them as effective as possible, without consuming an inordinate amount of everyone’s time. One participant identified the bogeyman of all Board meetings…the Time Vampire. This is the person who takes a short, straightforward discussion and turns it into a lengthy exploration of tangential issues and ideas.
The group agreed there were several solutions that could be applied to drive a stake into the heart of a Time Vampire. ou could use of Roberts Rules of Order, either from the large softcover edition or a “Googled” summary version (one participant had brought a copy of the latter), or you could introduce a “consent agenda” where topics not requiring the action of the Board can be bypassed without comment. However, the group awarded the best solution to the participant who explained that her Board’s best friend was a large wooden gavel …the exact application of which was left to the imagination and discretion of the person wielding it.
The existence and role of Executive Committees was a topic of interest. One person noted her Board has one that is responsible for dealing with emergency situations, especially those involving confidentiality, when the whole Board cannot be convened. She felt the Committee exercised its power prudently and was an asset to the organization. After discussion the group agreed that it is important to define the duties and authority of Executive Committees, and in particular whether they are able to make decisions that bind the corporation.
We also talked about learning styles. At least one attendee said she was a Lazy Learner, and needed to approach educational situations in a certain way if she was to benefit from them. The format we used must have worked for her, because at the end of our time together she provided a lengthy list of the things she had noted that would be helpful in being a better Board member.
Since Canoe FM is a non-profit, we took a bit of time to explore some of the differences between non-profits and charities. I noted that Board members of non-profits could be paid for their work, unlike Board members of charities, and referred to the Board Chair of Ornge, the Ontario air ambulance service that was so much in the news a few years ago. That person was reported to have been paid $250,000 per year. Apparently Canoe FM isn’t quite there yet, but one Canoe Board member was pretty sure the pen he was holding was provided free gratis by the radio station. He just didn’t think it was worth $250,000.
Other ideas the group liked included:
Saturday’s participants also observed that Haliburton, the town and the county, was very community orientated and very supportive of the local charities and non-profits. One Board member noted he had lived in a neighbouring part of Ontario for many years, but that other community did not demonstrate nearly the public support he found when he moved to Haliburton.
As you might surmise, these were all good people sitting around the table, giving up a beautiful Saturday in May so they could learn how to do their volunteer jobs better. And concepts like Mishmash Boards, Time Vampires and Lazy Learners mean their own experience is important and helpful when shared.
The BIG IDEA
So my BIG IDEA is to take your knowledge with you when you participate in training, and share it with your colleagues. It will make the experience better for yourself and for others.
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