Reading is feeling; reading is healing


A grieving child who reads (or is read to) a story about another child who has lost a parent will naturally feel less alone in the world. The story becomes the catalyst of healing mental turbulence and emotional instability, enabling the reader to project their personal flaws on the main character in the story-line to find a way out of life-storms. Dr Ira Saxena, child psychologist, writer, and critic of children’s books, shares more on the healing powers of reading. The young people, in particular, facing discrimination in society, ethnic distance, cultural intolerance, and personal traumas seek a peaceful resolution. The disasters manufactured by man always cause greater injury, both physical and psychological to the entire social fabric. The extent of suffering is powerful; the anguish is so deep and concentrated it throbs unimaginably through the psyche of humanity for a long time. The psychological wounds are deep and intense, sometimes pushing children into the security of silence, withdrawal and a psyche tarnished by simmering hatred.

Stories offer solace; literature can show a way through conflict that enables the young minds to think and comprehend, ensuring an emotional release and coming to grips with their situation. Book therapy is the art of healing through literature, stories and poetry – precisely books. The idea of book therapy seems to have grown naturally from the human inclination to identify with others through their expressions in literature and art.

Story-reading and storytelling aids in overcoming fear and depression and restoring sanity in adverse situations. The process may be accompanied with accessories of book therapy such as, storytelling, discussions, child art, role-playing etc. The method articulates a significant dimension of promoting reading skills that not only encourage learning but soothe the troubled mind.

The simple activity of directed reading and subsequent activities involves understanding the circumstance of the children or the child, selecting the right kind of books which is subject appropriate and suitable for the age and reading level of the child and encourage and assist reading. The selected book could be a picture book captivating the young reader with its charm. The simplicity of the plot, pictures, and colours bear a powerful impression on the traumatised mind, uncannily spreading a balm to relieve hurt. Maturity of the reader enables him to read more meaning into the story and see beyond the pictures.

Usually real life adventures that are imaginative, rich in emotional content and inspiring hope dealing with traumatic situations are capable of providing solutions to conflicts. Lighthouse in the Storm – a collection of 24 heartwarming stories projecting remedies to inner turmoil, A Clear Blue Sky are stories of conflicts and tolerance, Sorry Best Friend relates stories of the real situations of divisive forces of communalism, guiding school children to handle difficult situations. Faces in My Cupboard, a collection of sensitive stories presents images of emotional conflicts and acceptance in socially approved channels. The Road to Peace and One World are collections of peace stories resolving conflicts and inspire hope. Hope becomes the antidote of despair and tolerance is the moving force to overcome despair.

Sometimes it may be a good idea to draw the young readers into stories of parallel worlds. Explorations in myths of monsters and metaphors and imagery of enduring evil as in the vampire stories could prove to be a diversion. Many science fiction disaster tales and real prophecies of the apocalypse strike to surface inner feelings in children. Unconsciously they touch upon the repressed anger within the reader empowering him or her to merge with the main character and conquer, hence uplifting their ego-strength. However, there is a word of caution, a close observation is required to allow that fantasy tales do not slide the reader further into unreal, the actual emotional unburdening occurs in realistic stories.

Much of the adventure fiction that remains a favourite genre with young readers rests upon conflicts complicated further into enigmas with definite emotional content and rarely becoming traumatic for the protagonist works out an acceptable solution in the end. The prose revolves around action, exploration, hunt, quest, capture, and stances of physical substance leading to the resolution of conflict. Among the long list of fiction Kaziranga Trail and The Blind Witness, Faces in the Water, The Ghost of Gosain Bagan, I am Sona, Curse of Grass, Stories by Premchand, Jhansi Ki Rani remain exception owing to the choice of the accent and incentive of the adventure circumstance. The Curse of Grass is a historical event converging on environmental morals strike a chord of positive actions absorbing the spirit of non-violence. The limitations of the main characters accomplishing major trophies just like an insignificant underdog reaching immeasurable heights underscore the adventure. The fluidity of prose carries the reader into the scene, enabling them to project their personal flaws in the limitations of the main character, to experience vital recovery of self-esteem on general approval in the end. It has been observed that tales of real-life heroes and episodes of valour strike a positive note in flight from fear. The achievement at the end becomes cathartic, producing lofty feelings of general wellbeing. The emotional content, as I have been emphasizing, also tends to reduce the hurt of children confined in hospitals.

Poetry utilizes imagination and creativity to heal. Poetry (Paper Boats – Tagore, Why are you afraid to hold my hand and Little Fingers, Look at the Moon) as therapy uses the traditional techniques – rhythm, sound, metaphor, etc. – but the focus is on the spirited imagination of the writer. As children grow into teens their mind’s eye evolve to sensitive appreciation of fine arts. Themselves they express their thoughts and fervent ideas passionately. Amateur poetry becomes only a means to an end, therefore an important one for growth in selfhood and emotional awareness through self-expression.

Sensitive insights into handling traumas readers accept the read solutions in their approach to life. There is evidence that reading story books to a child on one to one basis has wide ranging impact on the development of a child’s personality influencing class performance and verbal skills. There is a possibility of the child turning fragile, cease to mature along the developmental timeline and become depressed. The book therapy issues stress on the spirit of resilience integrating healing of the body and the mind simultaneously. The books/stories draw the child out from the depths of their problems; assist interaction with peers, eventually facilitating them to settle in their circumstance and eventually changing attitudes.

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