I highly value the contribution Susan McLaine introduced to the experience of our residents through the Bibliotherapy program she introduced to St Vincent’s Prague House in 2010. In the sessions, discussion followed the reading aloud of a short story and then a poem. Prague House is a low-care aged residential facility which is the home of its residents, most of whom experience chronic mental health issues, and many have a background of homelessness. Chronic social isolation and some cognitive impairment are characteristic. Susan was immediately open to the needs and the potential of the participants, and to the potential of the reading program to address needs within mental health and other specialized settings. It was stimulating and a delight to work with Susan, sharing the often moving and sometimes profound contributions of the participants, along with the rich experience of enjoying literature with them. Susan modelled respect for the artistic form of the short story and the poem, never pragmatically shortening a work, and instinctively choosing examples the residents took in and whose challenges they met with enjoyment. Susan was alive to the value of the discussion being present-focussed, which resulted in an enlivened, felt, shared experience for participants.
Elizabeth Mackenzie, Activities and Wellbeing program coordinator, St Vincent’s Prague House
Susan McLaine has been running a Bibliotherapy group in the psycho-social rehabilitation unit within the criminal justice system for the past year. The group has been set up with each month focusing on a different theme. A short story, or an excerpt of a story is read out and then a poem – all based around these themes. This has provided the patients with a forum for discussion, which they can connect with the ideas, themes and characters in the book, but also relate this to their own lives and their own personal accounts of success and difficulty. It has really helped the patients be able to open up and talk about some difficult things – all within a forum of feeling and being safe due to the narrative being about someone else (the characters in the story). Susan does a fantastic job at not only choosing texts relevant to the population, ones they can relate to, but also with facilitating relevant discussion, with a group who find it difficult to open up about their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Liza Stacey, Psychologist