Bibliotherapy- The Reading Cure

Bibliotherapy- The Reading CureAs a clinical psychologist, I am always looking for effective ways in which my clients can help themselves at the lowest possible cost. Why low cost? Because the cost of psychotherapy can be prohibitively expensive… particularly for those who need it most.

In the United States, the cost of psychotherapy sessions can range from $100 to as much as $250. In many cases, if the individual has health insurance, as much as 80 percent of this may be covered. However, many people have to make a choice between a $35 co-payment two or three times per month and buying food and paying other bills. As a result, their mental and emotional health needs suffer.

Those clients who can afford it may meet with a mental health clinician at least a couple of times per month. Between those sessions, clients ought to be busy working on helping themselves heal by practicing the strategies and techniques learned from the clinician and facilitating changes in their behavioural, cognitive, and emotive processes. The reason for this is that research has shown that most successful mental health outcomes are generated when people are focussed on helping themselves.

One very useful method of self-help for emotional pain such as anxiety, grief, and depression is reading books. Reading books? Absolutely! Reading therapy!

The idea that reading can make us emotionally and physically stronger goes back to Plato. He wrote that poets gave us the arts “not for mindless pleasure,” but “as an aid to bringing our soul-circuit, when it has got out of tune, into order and harmony with itself."

The Greeks had it right! Additionally, I don’t think that it was a coincidence that the Greek God Apollo was the god of both poetry and healing. The real focus of every psychotherapeutic approach is to bring the self:
behaviours, thoughts, and emotions – back into "order and harmony".

One of those arts to which Plato referred is the art of the written word – poetry and prose. The general public benefits by being stimulated by the artists’ creative use of language! Homer, Rumi, Shakespeare, Frederick Douglass, Agatha Christie, Khalil Gibran, Maya Angelou, JK Rowling, or the Caribbean’s own VS Naipaul, Derek Walcott, or Saint John Perse have provided billions of people who read their works with entertainment, joy, inner peace, and emotional healing when they needed it most. This is therapy by reading!

These days, “reading therapy” is officially called bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy is defined as an expressive therapy that uses an individual’s relationship to the written word as therapeutic relief. In some studies, bibliotherapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression and the results have been shown to be long-lasting. Bibliotherapy is also an old concept in library science. The ancient Greeks put great faith in the power of literature by posting a sign above some of their library doors describing the library as a “healing place for the soul”.

The idea of bibliotherapy or reading therapy seems to have grown naturally from the human inclination to identify with others through their expressions in literature and art. For instance, a grieving child who reads (or is read to) a story about another child who has lost a parent will naturally feel less alone in the world.

Bibliotherapy is often used very effectively with young children particularly by parents.

Among adults, reading groups (book clubs) seem to serve many purposes. They serve as social gatherings for like-minded people to discuss issues, ideas, and topics relevant to their collective interests. Reading groups, however, also help to bring people together so that they feel less isolated and they can build their self-esteem.

Reading groups also seem to be an experiment in individual and collective healing.

In one study, there was an indication that involvement in reading groups helped some members deal with depression, loneliness, and grief. Some book clubs specifically help members who are going through the loss of a spouse through death, while others help their members deal with those experiencing the pain of separation and divorce. Additionally, reading specific books for therapeutic purposes is also a feature of many self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Thus, books seem to help everyone… whether as individuals or in groups. No matter how ill you are, there is a world inside books which you can enter and explore, and where, in the privacy of your own space, you can focus on something other than your own problems. Through reading, you can give yourself a respite from the world of chaos and disharmony.

Of course, reading also serves other purposes which may not seem at first to be obviously therapeutic. The knowledge that you get from books might help you to address a problem that you have. The author’s words can give you insight into how to manage various areas of your life. Or you may just be motivate and inspired by reading powerful stories and words of encouragement.

The benefits of bibliotherapy or reading therapy as a "reading cure" are threefold: identification, catharsis, and insight. Simply stated, when reading the appropriate book, an individual has the opportunity to:

•    Relate to the main character and his/her own predicament;
•    Become so emotionally connected to the story that their own feelings are revealed;
•    Realise that his/her problem is solvable or, at the very least, that he/she is not alone;
•    Process possible solutions to his/her problems;
•    Develop hope based on the positive outcomes from the lives of the characters in the book; and,
•    Bring an added positive dimension to the self-talk that goes on inside.

As a result of reading certain books, people are uplifted, positively influenced, motivated, and inspired to heal themselves from the inside out.

The key to making all of this work is making sure you have a great book. With so many out there, how do you know which one to choose? There are many sources of good books on the internet, at bookstores, and in libraries.

In Antigua, we have several places where you can find good books. My books are sold through Best of Books – and they have a fine collection of books at several bookstores.

If you need suggestions specifically for emotional issues, consider visiting my website www.HealYourHurt.com.

I strongly recommend that you take up a book tonight and start reading. Relax. Immerse yourself between the pages. Journey along with the writer. Be inspired. Be motivated. Be captivated. Get ready for tomorrow – rejuvenated and reinvigorated.

And if you are hurting on the inside… and depending on your level of hurt, you may need help from a counseling psychologist.

Whether for renewal or for healing, you must make a commitment to meet regularly with your low-cost highly-effective therapist – your beautiful, inspirational, informative, relaxing and therapeutic book.

Dr Marcus Mottley is a Clinical Psychologist, author, speaker and human resource consultant. His works include: Radical Thoughts & Empowering Perspectives, Vol. 1; Ask, Seek, Knock; and, Heal Your Hurt (CD & MP3). Soon to be released books: Drug Prevention Strategies; Stack the Deck; Heal Your Hurt – Heal Your Heart!

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2 Comments In This Article   


RE: Bibliotherapy- The Reading Cure

#2 Maallum » 2012-09-20 06:23

...If this article was vaguely about "party and politics" there would've been comments spewing from every bodily opening.......but it is about READING.......


RE: Bibliotherapy- The Reading Cure

#1 Yvette » 2012-02-03 19:40

More people need to realise the therapeutic effects of reading. Also, there are books for just about every problem a person can have. People need to explore the public library and bookstores. All too often, people act helplessly when faced with a situation. They don't look for a book which addresses their problem. If they did, they would be in a much better position.


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Marcus M. Mottley Ph.D

Marcus M. Mottley Ph.DMarcus M. Mottley, Ph.D. is an Executive Coach, Organizational Consultant & Clinical Psychologist




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