Throughout my 35 years’ of life, I have always relied on a book for some friendly comfort and non-judgemental advice. I can remember from my toddler years, I’d never leave a book store without throwing a tantrum — my parents had to buy me a brand new book to take home and discover. I would read at every opportunity — at my nan’s home, in the car, on restaurant tables or out in the garden in our family home in Nairobi.
My passion for reading and my love of books sprouted a real interest in the personal development space (including psychodynamic psychotherapy, counselling and personal coaching) leading me to train as a psychodynamic counsellor as well as attend therapy sessions myself (which is a pre-requisite for this kind of training). It was during this time that I appreciated the power of books as non-conventional therapy.
One-to-one therapy is great but books can be a lifeline when you are short of time and money. Books can truly address a specific cause, be hugely effective in connecting the reader and the author going through a similar struggle, engaging the reader’s emotions, making the reader feel understood and empathised with, releasing a cathartic energy.
For example, a person who’s coming to terms with being adopted, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child (Non-fiction) by Nancy Verrier, provides a beautiful insight into the foster parent-adoptee relationship and the profound impact a child’s separation from their birth mother can have on these relationships. The adopted child mourns for their birth mother on a psychological, physical and physiological level. A traumatic experience, this primal wound is often misunderstood or overlooked. This book is revolutionary in that it truly acknowledges and validates the adoptee’s pain and feelings of loss. It also provides rationale for their behaviour to the parents who are adopting them and how to support and guide them through this loss and promote healing. Lastly it discusses the loss a birth mother feels, helping them find solace. It’s a great source of comfort for someone who has been adopted or is in the process of being adopted.
If you are seeking consolation during a difficult time in your life, both When Bad Things Happen To Good People (Non-fiction) by Harold S. Kushner and A Grace Disguised (Non-fiction) by Jerry Sittser are great books to help make sense of what is happening. For those looking for some literary support whilst caring for a loved one, The Spare Room (Fiction) by Helen Garner or The Fault in Our Stars (Fiction) by John Green will resonate with the reader. Realistic and emotional, both books leave the reader feeling understood, connected and not alone in their plight. For something a little lighter, if you are daunted by your to-do list, The Martian (Fiction) by Andy Weir is a great read (also a major motion picture now). In the book, Mark Watney, a botanist on a mission to Mars, is left on his own after a sandstorm destroys his spaceship and leaves his colleagues dead. In order to survive he needs to carefully tackle his to-do list (now a matter of life and death) which includes stitching a stomach wound and using his botanist skills to plant potatoes on Mars. A fascinating book, which may help dwarf your to-do-list and take away some of the pressure.
This powerful concept of healing through reading led me to launch a bibliotherapy (or ‘book therapy’ in the modern age) practice at www.booktherapy.io where books are prescribed based on an individual’s needs and circumstances. 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 literature 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.’ In fact I find reading and writing poetry extremely therapeutic. My favourite form of bibliotherapy, it has been a saving grace for me on many occasions.
If in doubt about anything that is bothering you, rest assured there will be a book for it! And if you’re wondering where to find the relevant book for you, then Book Therapy’s Free A — Z of Book Prescriptions is a great starting point! There’s one for children too: Children’s A-Z of Book Prescriptions.
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. My book recommendations have featured in The Guardian, NBC News and Marie Claire. You can also check out Book Therapy’s 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 a 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 email@example.com or www.booktherapy.io.
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