Is Bibliotherapy The Secret to Reading Yourself Happy?
During lockdown, it’s safe to say we’ve all been feeling more stressed than we’re used to. With an invisible threat on every surface, even going outside our own home has become dangerous. There have reportedly been more cases of anxiety, depression, and stress during lockdown, with almost half of people (49.6%) reporting that they feel more anxious towards everyday life than they did pre-lockdown (according to the Office of National Statistics).
It’s not surprising that we’re all finding new ways to cope in this new normality. Many of us have taken on new hobbies such as gardening or redecorating. Some of us are just finding new ways to fill our days – anyone else spending far too much time on Instagram?
Bibliotherapy is one way that we can cope with this new normality.
Within establishing new reality parameters in our lives, we’re also trying to figure out what we want to keep from our old pre-Covid lives, and what stresses we want to ditch.
With all these new stimuli, it’s no wonder people are seeking out online therapy sessions more and more. Whilst being kept indoors, we have ourselves retreated inward, as we put our mental wellbeing first.
One way of supporting our mental health is through Bibliotherapy.
Now, Bibliotherapy is the act of reading books, sure, but it’s also more than that. Be it reading self-help books or fiction, with Bibliotherapy, you’re reading with the specific purpose of healing. It is an effective treatment against depression and anxiety, and can be done at home, at your own pace.
Bibliotherapy is the calming, soothing mental health task we’ve all been looking for during lockdown.
What Is Bibliotherapy?
Bibliotherapy is the treatment of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and others, through the use of books. It’s thought that the use of storytelling or reading specific books about healing can help aid recovery in patients suffering from mental health disorders with longer lasting effects than traditional therapies.
It’s not a modern concept, either. Bibliotherapy can be linked back to Ancient Greece! The term ‘Bibliotherapy’ was however coined in 1916 by Samuel McChord Crothers in a newspaper article, and then in 1966 it was issued an official definition by The American Library Association.
It really came about in the World Wars though, when hospitals started using books and fiction as ‘curative medicine’.
Bibliotherapy can be seen as the act of curing the mind through non-invasive, intuitive techniques.
Could Bibliotherapy Help You?
If you’re feeling disconnected from reality, if you’re feeling more anxious or depressed than usual, then Bibliotherapy could be a way to supplement the professional treatment you may already be receiving, to help you.
There have been several cases where Bibliotherapy has been proven to reduce depression in the long-term, as well as enhance a resilience to anxiety.
Sufferers of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Insomnia have also reported that it helped their conditions.
It is also often used as a treatment for those suffering substance or alcohol addiction.
Bibliotherapy has been a great resource for teachers, too. It can help students at developmental milestones overcome the stress and trauma through Developmental Bibliotherapy. This is especially effective during puberty.
Who would have thought there were so many uses for books?
How Does Bibliotherapy Work?
The main idea around how Bibliotherapy works is that it allows the reader, the patient, to view their own life through the eyes of the protagonist. If you’re seeking help through reading fiction books, this is often referred to as Creative Bibliotherapy. Through the characters in the books, readers can look at their own issues from a different perspective. This allows them to disassociate themselves from their issues and analyse the situations as an outsider. It can lead to the reader, the patient, having insights into their behaviour and accepting that behavioural changes are possible. This is especially useful if the patient is suffering from a dissociative identity disorder.
Another way Bibliotherapy can work is through Prescriptive Bibliotherapy. This is where instead of reading fiction books, you read self-help books. These books provide a more analytical approach to problem-solving and are great for if the reader knows what their condition is.
Just for clarification, Bibliotherapy should not be used as a sole treatment, but rather as a supplement to other professional help that is being received.
Bibliotherapy acts on the human emotion of hope, where if we can analyse and understand what problems we have, we are prompted to hope that our situation will improve.
How Do I Start Practicing Bibliotherapy?
It’s easy to begin practicing Bibliotherapy, all you need are a few core elements and you can be on your way to less stress and anxiety in your everyday life.
First, you need to pick a book. It needs to be one where you can identify with the main character, where they’re struggling with the same issues as you (be it depression, anxiety etc.) and in the book, they need to overcome their issue at the end.
This can be quite hard to find if you haven’t read the book already. It’s a good idea to ask your friends and family if they have any suggestions, or even popping into your local bookshop.
If you want to take a more Prescriptive Bibliotherapy approach, then you need to pick a self-care book that’s about the issues you’re dealing with.
Then, you need to read the book!
If you’re not into reading books so much, Graphic Novels also work really well in Bibliotherapy.
After you’re finished, you need to analyse the book in relation to yourself.
You can keep a journal to analyse your thoughts about the book, and see how you connect yourself to the protagonist, and what you can learn from their actions to implement in your own life.
Or, you could talk to your friend or therapist after reading the book. This would be more effective.
The main idea of Bibliotherapy is to bounce your thoughts around to see where the book could help you, and what you can learn from them.
The Best Books on Bibliotherapy
If you want to read up a bit more on Bibliotherapy, here a few suggestions of books about it, and how you can implement Bibliotherapy at home.
1. The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
2. Bibliotherapy by Sarah McNicol and Liz Brewster
3. The Story Cure: An A-Z of Books to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
4. Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phrase of Our Lives by Beverly West and Nancy Peske
How Do I Find My Bibliotherapy Books?
It’s really dependent on what you want Bibliotherapy to help you with, what you intuitively connect with, and what helps you the most – be it fiction or non-fiction.
There are definitely a few key books out there that have been used for Bibliotherapy purposes, but it’s worth discussing with your therapist what would work best for you.
If not, you need to do a little digging. Have a look on your bookshelf and see what books made you feel good about yourself, or which ones had characters in that you truly connected with. That’ll be a good starting point to find others.
You could also go into your local bookshop and enquire there. Bibliotherapy is on the rise in popularity so the staff might have a few suggestions up their sleeve.
The Best Books for Creative Bibliotherapy
Even though Bibliotherapy is a very personal experience and not all books will help the same people, there are definitely a few main fiction books that are spoken about in Bibliotherapy circles.
Here are a few suggestions below to get you started. We've also written a previous post on six feel-good books that you can check out for more suggestions.
1. James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small
2. The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth
3. Do/Pause/ You are Not a To DO List by Robert Poynton
4. Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki
5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
6. A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines
7. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
How Do I Fit Bibliotherapy Into My Daily Routine?
It can be hard to prioritise ourselves and our mental health within our daily routine, especially during lockdown. However, Bibliotherapy can be practised in small moments of time, allowing it to fit into most daily routines.
Have twenty minutes spare whilst dinner is cooking? Read a chapter or two.
Have an hour free in the afternoon? Call a friend to discuss your most recent read.
If you’re practicing Bibliotherapy on your own, it can take a while to find the perfect book to read.
Once you’ve found it though, reading can be done whenever you have a free moment. There’s no time limit to the reading process, so you can read however fast or slow you want/need to.
What’s most important is after, you find the time to discuss and analyse the book. It doesn’t have to be a face-to-face discussion either, you could call a friend or schedule an online therapy appointment. When gatherings are allowed, joining a local book club would be good way to start discussing the books you’ve read with a wider group of people.
It might be hard to originally find the time to decide on what book you want to read and when you’ll find the time to read it, but if you do manage to find the time you would be prioritising yourself and your mental health, and you’ll reap the benefits in no time.
How Do I Find More Bibliotherapy Help?
If you want to find professional Bibliotherapy guidance, you can talk to your therapist and see if they could recommend a certified Bibliotherapist, or even help themselves.
If not, you can seek guidance from the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy website. On their website there’s a list of certified Bibliotherapists. Most of them seem to be based in the U.S, but if you scroll there are a few based in the U.K.
Bibliotherapy can be an accessible way for reducing stress, anxiety and depression in everyday life, but especially during lockdown. It’s a creative way to incorporate reading into your mental health awareness, as well as allowing you to explore different avenues of treatment.
Bibliotherapy is a proven enjoyable and promising treatment for mental health conditions, and even though its not so widely spoken about, it’s becoming more and more popular due to its ease and effectiveness.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had any experience with Bibliotherapy, and whether it’s helped you. We'd love to hear about it!
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