bibliotherapy, psychology, reading, self-help, well-being

Reading therapy

Over the years I’ve often recommended books as support for psychotherapy sessions. In fact, sometimes when problems are not too severe, books can provide sufficient support with no need for one-to-one therapy! A few years ago The New Yorker wrote an article about ‘Bibliotherapy’, which they defined as ‘a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect’. There are a broad variety of self-help books out there written by mental health professionals, which many of my patients have found very helpful. Actually, when I worked in England, the local library services stocked books that we recommended. This was wonderful, as it wasn’t necessary for people to buy the books and it allowed them to try them before investing their hard earned cash. So books ‘on prescription’ is a real thing, whether it has been set up with libraries or not! I plan to collate a list of therapeutic books onto my website, which I know many of my patients have found helpful.

Truth be told, books can be very beneficial to our well-being even if they aren’t purposely written as therapeutic resources. I’ve loved reading ever since I was a little girl and it really did allow me to gain perspectives and experiences, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and I found this incredibly supportive and comforting. For instance, a good novel can offer us a break even if things are a bit stressful in our lives. A good story can even provide us with one of the least expensive holidays to be found! They can take us to far away lands or allow us to even time-travel by providing portals to a past world or an unknown future. How else could we experience an eighteenth century parlour, where sputtering candles and crackling firewood are the only sounds we hear?

Books can put us into the shoes of others and provide new perspectives. By immersing ourselves into the lives of characters, we gain experiences our own lives would otherwise not provide us with. Different world views become more familiar to us, which allows us to develop a more flexible thinking style. Good books can even help us understand ourselves and our own feelings better. They can help us name and understand emotions that we are struggling with, but cannot quite decipher. The characters of a story can hold mirrors up to us, which may help us clarify issues about our own identities. By delving into the hearts & souls of the characters we meet, we can even find ways to manage difficulties and solve problems in our lives. Stepping into the shoes of a character for the span of a book, can even enhance our ability to empathise with others in the ‘real world’. Finally, when we read about characters going through things we relate to, we’re reminded that we are not alone. This can help alleviate feelings of isolation, reduce distress and lift our mood. So it’s clear that books can be powerful tools for cultivating our well-being and therefore it’s important to choose wisely!!

Please don’t be put off the idea of books even if you have trouble reading, or have been diagnosed with dyslexia. There are so many wonderful audiobooks available today that we are spoilt for choice! In fact I enjoy text AND audiobooks for different reasons. I like winding down before sleep with a good ‘old-fashioned’ paper book, if I’m commuting an audiobook can help me shake off the dust of my work-day and I sometimes use the Kindle app on my laptop if I’m on vacation. My taste for books is very broad, from historical novels to science fiction, autobiographies and health/science books to mystery and detective novels! What types of books do you enjoy reading? Or do you have a book you’ve found especially helpful?