Here’s something most of you will agree on:
Books are magnificent, and so is the process of reading them. It’s magical: reading inspires, educates, changes our perspectives, and evolves imagination. Books allow us to travel through worlds and time, grow skills, and see the universe as viewed by others.
But what if I tell you that books can make you healthier? This effect is known as bibliotherapy and proven to treat depression as well as other personal issues and medical diagnoses.
What is Bibliotherapy?
Bibliotherapy is a way to use reading for healing. Often combined with storytelling and writing therapy, it involves reading specific texts – depending on the nature of your health issue – and discussing the progress with a therapist.
While some specialists insist that bibliotherapy cannot replace therapeutic intervention, others suggest it may supplement medical help. Doctors use this method in conjunction with therapy to help adults cope with hard times, stresses, and anxiety.
Also, it is a top practice for teaching and healing children. Teachers and parents use developmental bibliotherapy to help kids gain knowledge, understand their feelings and circumstances, learn values, and grow social skills.
The method is an old concept, originating from King Ramses II of Egypt, whose library’s motto was “the house of healing for the soul,” and reappearing after World War I. Former soldiers had problems with coming back to regular life, so bibliotherapy had become a practice to help them. Doctors prepared specific texts, and the first therapeutic book there was tailored Bible. Later, specialists began to use other literary writings that met sufferers’ needs.
Doctor Jenni Ogden calls bibliotherapy “the art of using books to aid people in solving the issues they are facing.” In her article for Psychology Today, she shares the reasons why fiction books are more therapeutic than poetry or nonfiction: fiction enhances our ability to empathize and reinforces self-reflection on our problems when we read about a character who has the same issues. Ogden calls it a catharsis: taking on a character’s pains, we start weeping for ourselves; and if a character finds happiness, so can perhaps we do.
But far from everything is that simple. To make bibliotherapy work, you need to know what to read.
How Does Bibliotherapy Work?
Back in the 1960s, scientists from Czechoslovakia assumed that only the books with protagonists experiencing and dealing with the same problems as readers were therapeutic. But this theory had failed to stand the test of time: if a weak in spirit person read such a book, he started to hate a book character rather than learn from that story. As for strong in spirit people, they didn’t need bibliotherapy at all.
Today, another approach is used, known as inverting – a substitution of your real-life situation for the opposite one to demonstrate alternatives. For example, when you are in hospital but read about a person living on a desert island and making a blanket out of tiger’s skin, it’s recovery through relieving: books help to while sorrow, as they become that door of escaping to other worlds. That’s how bibliotherapy heals stress and anxiety.
It takes many forms today, “from literature courses for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia.”(Source )
Thus, bibliotherapy can help you:
Gain a better self-understanding. (Identifying yourself with a book character, you get insights to own situation and circumstances.)
Become more empathetic. (Understanding others’ challenges and motivations, you’ll compare their choices to own ones to decide why you behave this way, not another.)
Deal with medical problems. (Reading a book about health problems similar to yours can build hope and erase the feeling of loneliness.)
Relieve stress. (Do you know that reading reduces anxiety by 68%? It’s more than walking or listening to music do.)
Heal through clinical bibliotherapy. (Your therapist guides the process, deciding on books you need to read and discussing the progress on a regular basis.)
What Books to Choose?
We often read for relaxation. But there’s a catch: choosing appropriate books only, we risk to stick with what we know and miss many self-helping, challenging, and therefore therapeutic books to read!
Make sure you read the literature of diversified genres. Fiction and nonfiction, poetry and philosophy, science and phantasy –each can touch and change your perspectives on some issues or ideas. You never know unless you try, after all.
If you want to get a therapeutic effect, choose a book relevant to your issue. Struggling with the loss of a sweetheart? Try Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Dealing with cancer? “God Never Blinks” by Regina Brett might come in handy. You can ask family and friends for recommendations or check corresponding web resources that will help to choose a therapeutic book for you. Also, it’s where a professional bibliotherapist can help: take one or two bibliotherapy sessions to get a list of books for further reading.
Even average literary texts can have a powerful effect in the context of bibliotherapy. A reader needs to know a protagonist won’t die. While he’s alive – his struggle goes on; which means we keep on fighting too. In spite of everything.
About the author:
Lesley Vos is an educator and seasoned web writer from Chicago. Currently blogging for PlagiarismCheck.org