About a year ago, while I was deeply smothered in the unpleasant reality of writing a thesis on top of full-time grad school compounded with a nearly full-time internship in a town a 45 minute drive away, an idea occurred to me. It was one of those moments when a fully formed concept just appeared in my mind and proceeded to expand upon itself until I had quite unintentionally just created a five point outline for a marvelous speech that I would now sit on until being invited to give a speech sufficiently important to be worthy of my sharing this idea. That’s right. A great idea materialized in my brain and rather than share it I made myself an audio note on my phone and squirreled it away for a later, unknown speaking opportunity.

And there my idea has rested for the past year or so. Until last week. I was working away on a DIY wall canvas project (which may be shared here at a later date) and listening to NPR — must keep up on those current events, you know. And while I was working and listening I heard a story about a recent research study that very closely mirrored my own personal fabulous and presently-in-storage idea! I was outraged, heartbroken, and very curious to learn more about the results of their study all within the scope of a second.

Before I share the link to this scalawag study that unknowingly scooped my original idea, let me provide a bit of background on what said idea consisted of in the first place.

Simply put, the primary tenet of my speech was that reading books helps to develop excellent therapists. My reasoning follows this trail: while devouring a book (okay, maybe that’s just me, I hear some people savor them) the reader is exposed to a minimum of two new perspectives, the intentional narrative perspective(s) through which the author conveys the story AND the inherent and underlying perspective of the author, which naturally pervades the creation that is a product of their unique mind. This exposure to another point of view contributes to the development of empathy, which is a crucial trait for a mental health therapist. Further, while consuming a book (right, right, or nibbling it) the reader is transported to another world, and hopefully encounters cultures, characters, and situations that are far outside their own realm of normal. In these encounters with strange lands and people the reader develops knowledge of, and openness to, differences in others, which is another crucial trait for a therapist.

Okay, that’s the overview. I can’t give it all away otherwise there will be nothing novel when the time comes for me to give my prestigious speech. I believe this idea was born as a way for me to rationalize my desire to spend time reading “pleasure” books despite the absolute absence of any time available to do so during my graduate education.

And, here is the link to the article at NPR, it’s called “Want To Read Other’s Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction.” The basic finding presented here is that participants who read literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction, non-fiction, or nothing, were more successful at identifying other’s emotions in black and white pictures. The distinction between types of books highlights their argument that the character development typical in literary fiction, but not other types of literature, increases the reader’s sensitivity to other’s internal states.

I know, it isn’t exactly my idea, but it IS a bit too close for comfort.


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