Fiction reading can be viewed as a considerable factor in the rehabilitation process for persons on sick leave. This is the conclusion of a new interdisciplinary study from the University of Gothenburg on sick-listed women's experiences with fiction reading to improve their health, so-called bibliotherapy.
The two researchers Lena Mårtensson, PhD and registred occupational therapist, and Cecilia Pettersson, PhD and literary scholar, interviewed eight women of working age who had been sick-listed for 4-36 months about their experiences with fiction reading during sick leave.
'Fiction reading is a meaningful activity that the sick-listed women initiated on their own , and it strengthened their ability to take part in everyday activities,' says Mårtensson.
The study shows that the reading relates to an outer, concrete reality and to an inner, more subjectively perceived experience. At a concrete level, the reading helped the women regain their capacity and structure in everyday life. The reading also contributed to a positive self-image and self-understanding via the subjective experience, as well as provided a private space for recovery.
All women in the study had always had an earlier interest in reading. However, many of them indicated that, when first becoming sick-listed, they reduced their reading or had no energy to read at all.
'Once they returned to reading, most of them chose popular fiction such as chick-lit and books reminding them of their own situation. As they gradually felt better, they increasingly returned to the type of literature they had read in the past,' says Pettersson.
The women described many different approaches to reading while sick-listed. Some preferred stories reflecting their own situation and identified strongly with the texts. Others read for aesthetic enjoyment or to escape from their illness for a moment.
'The women read in all of these different ways but at different times during their sick leave, feeling that it greatly contributed to their rehabilitation. This points to the breadth of therapeutic reading and the danger in trying to regulate this type of reading too much,' says Pettersson.
The study also shows that the reading has many dimensions. It relates to the women's volition, physical and mental skills, to relationship and to increased self-esteem.
'Reading can encourage sick-listed individuals to become more actively involved in their rehabilitation,' says Mårtensson.
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