I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Refined Reader (25) Bibliotherapy

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

The idea of reading to feel better mentally goes back to Medieval times when physicians would recommend reading (and writing) to treat melancholy.  Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus has a line that refers to this as well - "Come, take choice of all my library/ And so beguile thy sorrow."  The idea at the time was that reading something happy, positive, or encouraging would help you reflect on your situation and "heal the troubled soul."  In 1916 the stages of therapeutic bibliotherapy was categorized by Samuel Crothers (who also coined the term) as Identification, Catharsis and Insight.  That is, in the case of using fiction for bibliotherapy, the reader identifies with some aspect of the story, finds release in sharing with the character's feelings, and gains insight into how to apply that to dealing with their own emotions.  In the case of using non-fictional works like self-help books, the process is much more simplified and direct (but less fun in my opinion!).

The effectiveness of bibliotherapy really seems to stem from how helpful it is to get a new perspective on things.  Reading is an internal process so it is useful in focusing the reader on examining 'self' and coming to terms with their emotions through the expressions of literature.  Modern views on bibliotherapy place it as an effective method of cognitive behavioral therapy to encourage people to replace maladaptive thinking with rational and realistic thinking.  Bibliotherapy has been seen to positively treat OCD, bulimia, emotional disorders, alcohol addiction and depression for older people.

I think for avid readers, the idea of bibliotherapy is not new at all.  I know I can feel better curling up with a good book after a hectic day, and being able to experience new things through books is a great way to forget about everyday sadness.  And this post came about because I was interested in the scientific aspect of why bibliotherapy works (which is only briefly and superficially examined here) and it's really comforting to have it confirmed how much reading is a positive and healthy pastime.

Do you have favorite 'comfort' reads, that always cheer you up?  What are they? 

Words, Stones, and Herbs: The Healing Word in Medieval and Early Modern England
Patient's and Provider's Perspectives on Bibliotherapy

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