Books as Therapy

I think it’s time for another post about bibliotherapy – the practice of using books as tools for improving, promoting or maintaining mental health. Wellness and mental health are extremely important, with our lives getting busier and busier, and stress increasing with every new addition to our calendars.

Reading helps us escape from the pressures of everyday life

Is there anything more satisfying than recommending a book that someone else reads and enjoys? I absolutely love those moments. Readers’ advisory is not bibliotherapy, but if finding someone who likes the same books as we do warms our hearts, imagine the thrill of prescribing a book that helps someone on such a foundational level as their mental wellbeing.

In her Guardian article, Move over Freud: literary fiction is the best therapy, Salley Vickers breaks it down for us, spelling out some social problems (‘chronic loneliness and isolation’) and a therapeutic solution that involves reading: “reading in groups . . . significantly ‘improves self-confidence and self-esteem.'”

The Conversation has a great article about the history of bibliotherapy, which came into its own after World War I. Many returning soldiers were so traumatized from their experiences that they had a difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life; but prescribed reading helped many sufferers to work through their trauma. I know I have written about her before, but one of my heroes is Sadie Peterson Delaney, who pioneered bibliotherapy, and worked very closely with veterans as well as children.

Image courtesy of The Steampunk Home

On the other hand, bibliotherapy is still an imprecise science. A book that one person connects with might not be helpful to someone else. In their article, 5 Books That Will Make You Happier, According to Bibliotherapists Good Housekeeping sites therapists who recommend The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt as a good book to read if you are feeling pessimistic about the future. I found that book very depressing and not at all positive or uplifting, so in my opinion that’s an inappropriate recommendation for someone who is already feeling pessimistic. This article leads me to believe that there could be quite a margin of error in the practice of bibliotherapy, but I suppose that could be said about many things. Overall, I still love the idea and am eager to connect with someone who has been an official participant in bibliotherapy.

Is there anyone out there who would like to share a books-as-therapy experience? I would love to hear your thoughts!

6 thoughts on “Books as Therapy

  1. I’m surprised that The Goldfinch was listed as helpful; I found it quite full of despair, and read on hoping for a change when it only got worse. I still am crazy about Donna Tartt, particularly The Secret History, but full of hope she is not.

    The books that have helped me the most might not help others, but Madeleine L’Engle has been especially comforting in moments of great distress in my life. I especially love her books The Love Letters, The Other Side of The Sun and The Arm of The Starfish. I also dearly love the Narnia Chronicles and The Lord of The Rings…as diversion as well as hope.

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    • Thank you so much for your reply! I agree about The Goldfinch (as you know!) but I haven’t ready anything else by Donna Tartt. I’m a little hesitant to read any of her others if they are like that one!

      I finally read A Wrinkle in Time last year, and really enjoyed it. I’m interested that Madeleine L’Engle books were so helpful to you as a means of comfort. That is very helpful to know, and I will certainly look into those titles.

      I love hearing which books people connect with. It’s always good to find a book or series that helps lift us up, like Narnia and Lord of the Rings did for you. These days hope is something we need regular infusions of!

      Thank you again. Take care, and happy blogging! xo

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      • I think that part of why Wrinkle was so impactful in my life is that I read it when I was quite young, and it showed me the power love has over evil. Love Letters helped me get over my first horrific break up, again when I was younger. I will have to think about others that soothe me, that I turn to when I am sorrowful (besides the Bible). What a great topic!

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      • You are right that the Bible is the ultimate source of comfort and reassurance, but I welcome further thoughts on other books too. It definitely is a thought-provoking topic that could fuel days of discussion!

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  2. Interesting to learn about the connection to World War 1. Maybe part of the idea was to show that their feelings were not unique – a lot of returning service men were made to feel somehow guilty about their reactions. As if they were not being manly enough and should just pull themselves together

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