Book therapy or bibliotherapy is an age-old and time-tested method for using the power of reading to support better mental health and wellbeing, whilst remaining a cost-effective form of therapy.
From the ancient Greeks to modern day millennials, reading literature has often been recognised as a therapeutic medium with curative effects that harness the power of creative storytelling, poetry, novellas, personal development and self-help books.
“HEALING FOR THE SOUL”
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 also had a dedicated chamber filled with books that was aptly labelled “House of Healing for the Soul”.
In the early nineteenth century doctors were prescribing books for guidance and respite from suffering. Soldiers who were involved in World War One were reading to manage post-war trauma.
The practice expanded further in the 1950s when Carolyn Shrodes, author of ‘The Conscious Reader’ theorised that characters in stories can be hugely influential to those readers that identify with them.
In the late 1960s, poetry therapy emerged as a form of bibliotherapy; one of the most compelling books for the case is Rhea Rubin’s book titled ‘Using Bibliotherapy: A Guide to Theory and Practice.’
The basis of modern bibliotherapy is the ability to prescribe the appropriate text for each individual (there is no size that fits all and each book selected must be based on the reader’s personal choice and reading habits.) The selection process is based on a three step process:
1.The individual needs to identify and connect with the text or relevant character.
2. The text needs to be able to help the individual connect with their emotion, allowing them to release these (i.e. provide for a ‘cathartic response’).
3. Provide insight to the individual’s own situation based on the issues faced by the character/discussed in the text and allow the individual to consolidate these in a therapeutic fashion.
Whilst reading books from a prescribed reading list can be helpful, sometimes, a session with a book therapist alongside the prescribed text might be more beneficial for the reader, especially for more serious issues/mental health problems.
Types of Book Therapy: From education to developmental
The goal of book therapy is to inform, educate and heal. Book therapy or bibliotherapy comprises two main types: educational and therapeutic.
Educational book therapy is often used amongst school-age children and adolescence to teach them about developmental milestones, for example, puberty and building resilience.
Therapeutic book therapy focuses on specific issues, phobias or conditions. It uses fiction, non-fiction or a combination of the two to help alleviate the symptoms and resolve the issue. These could involve short stories, novels, biographies, poetry and self-help books. Imaginative or creative book therapy can be powerful in helping someone identify with the characters, experience a connection and feel understood.
By carefully hand-picking the right books, a book therapist can guide the reader onto a beautiful journey of self-awareness, reflection and healing.
Here at Book Therapy, we offer personalised book prescriptions with our resident book therapist, Bijal Shah which takes into account your interests, needs and reading habits to create the most beneficial reading list for your specific issue. We also offer this for children.
A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I create reading lists/personalised book prescriptions based on your individual needs, this is my signature personalised reading service. You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also one for children, Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation. And if you’d like to connect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.booktherapy.io.
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