“I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage”. The words of French philosopher Charles De Secondat and author of the controversial book ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ continue to resonate today. Its premise is bibliotherapy, which is the use of literature as therapy. Biblio is the Greek word for books and therapy stems from the Greek word therapeia which literally means ‘to help medically’.
The modern-day term ‘book therapy’ is often cited too, as is the word ‘bibliocounselling’, both describe the prescription of literature, as a form of art therapy, that enables greater self-awareness, cathartic relief and a better understanding of emotional, psychological, social and cognitive issues.
Whether we put a label on it or not, many of us cannot dispute the deeply pleasurable feeling and satisfaction we get, when we connect with literature that comforts us and resonates with us.
A Short History of Bibliotherapy
The first origins of book therapy or bibliotherapy can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, who built libraries holding both entertainment and educational books. Aristotle’s literature was considered medicine for the soul. King Ramses II of Egypt also built a dedicated chamber filled with books that was aptly labelled “ House of Healing for the Soul”, according to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, in his monumental work Bibliotheca historical.
In the early nineteenth century, doctors were prescribing books for guidance and respite from suffering and libraries were important contributions to European psychiatric institutions enabling the practice of bibliotherapy. In the early twentieth century, soldiers who were involved in World War One were reading to manage post-war trauma and many military hospitals had libraries attached to them to incorporate bibliotherapy. There was a movement taking shape across both the US and the UK, that continued to build on bibliotherapy initiatives and resources. One such book as part of the Hospital Libraries book series, originally published in 1913 by Edith Kathleen Jones, is ‘A…