Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

‘Working through Literature: Bibliotherapy for Asylum Seekers and Refugees’, 16 May

Working through Literature: Bibliotherapy for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Thursday 16 May
The Northern School of Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy
Bevan House
34 – 36 Springwell Road
Leeds LS12 1AW


‘Each person told a part of the same story. And in telling another’s story, they told their own’
Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love.

While psychoanalysis traditionally presents trauma as a crisis of the individual subject, Durrant reconceives of trauma as a crisis of collectivity in which the bonds of community must be reimagined. Literature, as an act of empathic identification, has a key role to play in reconstituting these bonds: to read of another’s loss is to be invited to share that loss. Thus reading literature potentially engenders a community bound together through a shared recognition of loss and vulnerability. While the majority of Durrant’s work is of a literary-theoretical nature, reading specific literary texts as modes of working through communal trauma, in 2010 he put theory into practice by setting up a reading group for refugees and asylum seekers, in collaboration with SOLACE, a Leeds advocacy and counselling centre.

Unlike conventional reading groups, poems and novels are read aloud, together, rather than beforehand.  The broad aim is to (re)activate members’ ability to engage imaginatively with other lives and thus build an empathic community.  As Forna suggests in her novel about the aftermath of civil war in Sierra Leone, telling another’s story teaches one how to give narrative shape to one’s own life. Three groups are currently working with refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds and Bradford, and a further group has been set up in South Africa. The lecture will briefly elaborate on the model of ‘bibliotherapy’ employed but will also involve some group work, dialogue and discussion.

Dr Sam Durrant is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature at Leeds University. His research primarily concerns the therapeutic potential of literature as a way of working through trauma in postcolonial societies dealing with the traumatic legacies of slavery, colonialism, and other forms of racial oppression. His first monograph Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris and Toni Morrison was published by State University of New York Press in 2004. He has just co-edited a collection of essays on The Future of Trauma Theory (Routledge, 2013, forthcoming), and is in the process of revising a monograph, due out with Routledge in 2014, entitled Mourning and Post apartheid Literature: Reconciliation and its Discontents.

Susie Godsil is a psychoanalyst working as Consultant Adult Psychotherapist in the psychological therapy Service of Leeds and York NHS Partnership Trust and in private practice. She has developed the Tavistock and Portman’s Foundation and Intercultural Psychodynamic Psychotherapy training in Leeds which is hosted by NSCAP. She was one of the founders of the Leeds Women’s Counselling and Therapy Service and has an ongoing interest in the impact of gender and Culture.

For the latest details about NSCAP’s 10th anniversary and  to register for other lectures in the Integration series click here.

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This entry was posted on 12 May, 2013 by in Elsewhere, Events and tagged , , , , .

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