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  • Writer's picturePaul Matthew

Books, Comics and other reading - Reading as a mindfulness based grounding technique.




“Reading strengthens the neural circuits and pathways of our brain while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.” (Stepupformentalhealth.org)


"We read to know we are not alone" - William Nicholson


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” - Charles W. Eliot


I remember being 12 years old and asking for Ullyses by James Joyce for my birthday (yes I was a weird kid). I read so much that the trips to the library weren’t sustaining me, I wanted to re-read and re-read. I found the bigger the books were the longer I could read for and as I got into my teens I devoured books. Reading has been a wonderful escape for my entire life.



Growing up in the age of Harry Potter and, even better for me due to the volume, Terry Pratchett, reading was easy. The escape of fantasy, or crime or classic books was amazing.


Books helped me through the awkward times and the difficult times.



It’s been a while since I wrote, tested and published the first three cultural resource based grounding techniques and they have been used hundreds of times, in multiple countries and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.


A little while ago I was talking with a client about books and my reading past flashed before my eyes, it was easy grounding the end of a session talking about something the client was passionate about and whenever that happens it’s always time for a new technique.


You can use this technique on yourself, answer the questions with friends, as part of training with other people in the helping professions or use it in counselling or any other support role as grounding or as a doorway to talk about someone’s past in a safe way.


Remember, this won’t work for everyone, these techniques are designed to tap into things that people are passionate about (see the movies, music or games one for example).

Ask the questions in any order, the client (or you) can skip any that they don’t like or are too difficult for them. The client can also discuss comics, graphic novels, audiobooks, podcasts, anything in the rough genre of books.



These exercises have a base in accessible mindfulness and encouraging reading mindfully can be very useful (Mindful.org). Mindful reading really involves slowing things down, really thinking about the reading, particularly if you are a speed reader. Not so much as to lose interest but for instance if you were reading fantasy, really consider the world that is enveloping you.



The books- based mindfulness grounding technique


1. What book was your favourite escape as a child?

Every time I have asked this in recent weeks, the client has given me a lovely story about their childhood, about escape, about what a book meant to them. Obviously, there’s times when this question is unsuitable and should be approached with caution, particularly where the client has childhood trauma. Although that does not mean it is to be completely avoided, sometimes in the right space the question can open a door that was otherwise closed. Always remember to be wary and ready to help ground and move on when your judgement deems it necessary.



2. What is a book that you couldn’t put down?

I always encourage clients to go with their gut here, if they read a lot, what was the last book you stayed awake to read, or could remember reading so long you didn’t realise the time.





3. What’s the best book you read in the last year?

This one’s pretty simple, if anything it helps add to your reading list too but also sometimes evokes interesting discussion about why that book and what the significance of the genre or book was.


4. What’s a book you remember from a good time in your life?

If the client is struggling here, perhaps suggest family holidays, or, another childhood book. It’s also ok to move on and not answer.


5. What is a book that got you through a difficult time?

The importance of this question is it explores the resilience of the client and their ability to know when to tap into cultural resources, It might not be books it might be mountain biking or yodelling the application is universal. In this case it’s maybe a book that got then through a difficult time at home, a break up, maybe through exam season as a break in between studying.


6. What is the best book someone has recommended to you?

This is one of my favourite questions to ask. The reason is simple, it encourages the client to think about not only a time when they read a good book, thus possibly shifting their focus to a more positive place.


7. You can take one book series, or a selection of books by one author to a desert island what do you take?

Again, these sorts of questions are a favourite of mine in the techniques, mostly because of the different sort of thinking. A desert island means they have to think about something they could read over and over again, and I added “selection of books” because it allows for the inclusion of more books, or varied books.



8. What is one book you think everyone should read?

Another similar question to ones in the other techniques this again asks the client to consider the world beyond their knowledge and consider what other people should read. The answer can be the same as something above, it might be different.


9. What is a book that you loved when you were a teenager?

I originally had this worded as High School, in an absolute nightmare for diversity, different parts of the world, different parts of Scotland even. Thankfully during the testing a client reminded me that the wording could be way better and for the sake of humility I thought I’d explain my process there.


It’s important to note here that these articles evolve over time too, and if/ when they are edited you can see on the page (somewhere) that it is edited. If there are major changes I add a note with an edited date too. This is because these are designed to move as time moves and as they are done more and more other therapists and clients have opinions and share them with me.


10. What is your all-time favourite book?

I’ll officially call this one the hardest question. It throws clients. Much like favourite songs, sometimes it’s ultra clear, sometimes it changes with the minutes and seasons that pass.





Thank you for reading. I hope you found this useful either personally or for use with clients. This exercise can be adapted as a discussion topic in counselling groups or with groups of counsellors to show the benefit of using cultural resources in this mindful grounding way. I have also used some of these exercises in lectures and they are often the most positively fed back parts of the lectures.


Paul

Paul Matthew

MA, MSC, MBACP (Accred.)

Director

Harmony Counselling and Supervision


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