For many, adolescence can be a challenging time. Teenagers can often feel anxious, confused, and isolated. Jennie Hutton Jacoby’s English elective on psychological literature strives to help students gain a better understanding of these years by giving them insight into themselves and others with a bit more clarity and empathy. She does this by using literature, both fiction and nonfiction, to introduce her students to the different branches of psychology, the different approaches to psychotherapy, and some common psychological profiles.
“Literature serves as a great vehicle for discussing difficult topics,” says Jacoby, who has taught at Rivers for 23 years. “It provides students with the opportunity to see that they are not alone in their struggles to understand their emotions and their reactions to the stresses of life. It also provides a safe way to talk about those things."
The discussions we engage in during the course of our work can be powerful and personally meaningful." — Jennie Jacoby, English teacher
For example, students examine the dysfunctional family in Judith Guest’s Ordinary People and explore the damaging effects of guilt and blame. Peter Shaffer’s play Equus provides the vehicle for using a Freudian lens to uncover the motivation for a teenager’s violent crime.
The revolutionary counterculture novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey provides the opportunity to discuss the debilitating effects of rejection and shame as students examine mental illness and the power dynamics in an institutional setting. Sylvia Plath’s poetry and her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar help students understand the spiral of depression, while Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper explores a new mother’s descent into postpartum psychosis.