My research explores the benefits of the Shared Reading of Shakespeare in a community mental health setting for adults in the West of Ireland. My work builds on the existing research on the benefits of the Shared Reading of literary fiction on mental health and wellbeing. My approach is unique in that it will measure the benefits of the Shared Reading of Shakespeare as a sole author within this setting. This decision was informed by research which shows that reading Shakespeare’s words can positively impact mental health, particularly in the areas of cognition and emotion. This research determined that certain poetic effects in Shakespeare can stimulate the brain, triggering it into making powerful interconnections. I felt this warranted further exploration in a real-life care setting, and this prompted the decision to test it out within formal mental health services over a period of time, where the structure of the Shared Reading and selection of material between the different groups will be varied to provide a rich body of data.
An added dimension will be to employ a dialectical lens (as the concept is understood in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) when engaging with Shakespeare. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is a treatment programme available in mental health services in many parts of Ireland and internationally. It is aimed at helping people to regulate intense emotions which untreated could lead to other mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, deliberate self-harm and suicide. Strong dialectical elements permeate Shakespeare’s work and my research taps into this, with a particular focus on determining whether such an approach can reduce rigid beliefs and increase understanding of self and others. My research also focuses on metaphor, analogy and myth. These are fundamental features of Shakespeare and are also used in DBT as alternative ways of teaching dialectical thinking. Metaphor is also central to how people solve problems, how they understand and articulate loss and how they deal with new situations. Harnessing metaphor within the Shared Reading will provide another key focal point to facilitate the unfolding and expression of feelings. This may help participants make sense of their experiences of loss and enable them to construct their own personal narrative, helping them to ‘re-story’ or reinterpret their own reality in a more positive way.