The Reading Cure Podcast: Exploring the link between mental wellbeing and books

Published on 3 November 2021

Alex explains how his interest in the connection between reading and mental wellbeing was sparked during his time at Dundee

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Two-times graduate, Dr Alex Fox, recently co-launched ‘The Reading Cure’, a podcast the hosts explore books through the lens of mental health.

In the first two episodes of The Reading Cure, Alex and his co-host Dr Steven Davies cover Sam Harris’ Free Will and Albert Camus’ The Fall. These are two books not known for their obvious link to mental health. Yet for Alex and Steven, the books that they discuss on their podcast offer a form of ‘bibliotherapy’. They pick out the key arguments from the books to help listeners reflect on the narratives and philosophies that guide them and that can lead them to living more fulfilling lives. It’s a podcast which combines three of Alex’s long-time passions: philosophy, literature and counselling.  

Alex, who grew up in Dundee, decided to study Philosophy and English at Dundee after initially beginning a Maths degree at St Andrews.  

“When I left school, I thought I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do but I didn’t to be honest. I wanted to study philosophy and literature”, explained Alex.  

Alex was reassured to find that it was the best fit after making the switch.  

“Dundee was a friendly environment and was more suited to me as a person.”  

Alex then studied an MSc in Edinburgh, before coming back to embark on a part-time PhD in English Literature from Dundee.  

Alex Fox
“I had the best of both worlds at Dundee. I could do the research but they also allowed me to teach as well. I really loved the tutorials and I ran an evening class on Alfred Hitchcock.”

Dr Alex Fox

It was during his PhD that Alex helped a friend who had become very suicidal.  

“I came away from that experience feeling that, while it was very tough in some ways, it was also very meaningful. I thought I might like to work in that area.”  

In the middle of completing his PhD, Alex embarked on a Masters course in counselling at Abertay. After his studies, he set up a private practice and he is now based in Commercial Street in the centre of Dundee. His background and interest in philosophy and literature play a significant part in his counselling methods.  

“Quite a lot of clients pick me as their counsellor because of my literature and academic background. Especially if they come from academia or if they have studied a humanities subject. They feel I might be able to understand them better because I've inhabited their world. Studying literature has helped me when working with clients because you’re working with their stories. Applying philosophy helps people to think clearly about their circumstances, to help them work out what’s fundamental or essential to their lives as they see it.” 

Bringing in philosophy and literature to facilitate discussions with clients helped lead Alex to establish the Reading Cure podcast with his friend, Steven.  

“I sometimes bring in a literary or philosophical reference to help clients step back and see the bigger picture. Is there a character in this book or maybe a philosopher who is talking about human life that can help? And for those who are worried their experience has been abnormal or unusual, a story or a philosophy can relate to their situation and normalise it. My friend Steven and I would also have a lot of interesting conversations on these subjects. Steven is a teacher and an academic so we wanted to pool our resources to create a podcast.” 

For Alex, students have much to gain in studying a humanities degree. As well as helping students who are looking to use their degree within a mental-health related field. 

“You learn to look at things from different angles. You can relate to different characters, even the so-called villains and understand things from their perspective. Humanities subjects require you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to become less locked into your own worldview and to become a more flexible thinker. Currently the mental health field is not generally too informed by humanities which is a shame. I think the study of humanities could add a richness to it.” 

So, if Alex was to recommend a book for current students, what would it be?  

“Transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman. This book is good at highlighting the most fulfilling life that we could lead which incorporates so much more than things like career or making money. It involves things like connection, understanding, love and purpose. Those higher needs. I think that when we study a humanities subject, we're studying these higher needs and broader themes. It speaks about becoming fully human. Humanities is about becoming more human.” 

Transcend on the Reading Cure podcast 

You can listen to Alex and Steven discuss Transcend on the Reading Cure podcast by going to their website

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