The Reading and Chronic Pain Project. 2019.
Cultural Sector Partner: The Reader
HE Partner:
The University of Liverpool
Other Partners:
Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust

The Reading and Chronic Pain Project: A Collaboration between The University of Liverpool, Department of English with The Reader, an arts-based organisation based in Liverpool and Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust.

The Reader pioneered the award-winning Shared Reading model, in which literary works are read in real time in small, weekly groups in community and health settings, with regular pauses for group members to share thoughts and responses. Poems, short stories and novels from the whole range of the literary heritage down the ages are read aloud, together, live.

Shared Reading was first delivered by The Reader in the pain clinic at Broadgreen Hospital, as part of an initial 12-month interdisciplinary research project led by Professor Josie Billington from the English Department at the University of Liverpool with colleagues in Health and Life Sciences. The project was funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, as part of a wider research programme evaluating the role of the arts in health.

The study found that Shared Reading promoted absorbed concentration and ‘flow’, the optimal state in which people can lose awareness of their physical needs and bodily state becoming more fully themselves – more fulfilled and absorbed, more vitally alive – in forgetting the self, whilst engaged in meaningful activity. The more participants focused on thinking about the narrative or poem, the less they were affected by their pain or the more distanced from it they became, as though the extra mental effort helped shift immersion to another level and blocked out the pain more successfully. ‘You don’t feel pain when you are discussing or reading a story’, said one group member.

Participants also spoke of their shared sense of community and companionship, describing it as a bond deeper than peer group social support, one which protected them against feelings of isolation and loneliness as a result of their pain and loss of occupational roles. It also reminded them of the comradeship of their former workplace and re-connected group participants to their need for valued and purposeful activity.  ‘It’s just been a joy to me. I like going, I never miss,’ said one group-member. ‘I dragged myself there; it’s that important to me’.

Summary report here: The Chronic Pain Project report

Further participant testimonials are here:

Back to Case Studies