I have noticed many people in my practice and life (myself included) turn to books to meet a variety of significant needs. We turn to them for knowledge, but also for comfort, for inspiration and escape. It seems they are pretty reliable and very effective in their ability to transport us. To lift us out of the mundane and take us anywhere we care to go. As I began exploring this overlooked strategy through conversations in my practice, I discovered Bibliotherapy recognised the therapeutic value of these very things.
Originating in library sciences, Bibliotherapy refers to the administration of books to soothe the soul. A recent resurgence in Bibliotherapy has been driven by the medicinal properties of fiction, to hopefully rival the self help book explosion of the last century, which ironically only seemed to largely make people feel worse about themselves.
Taking time out to engage with stories outside of our own experience can be beneficial in as many ways as there are genres to discover.
“There is no one so grateful as the man [sic]
to whom you have given just the book
his soul needed and he never knew it.”
When our own problem saturated stories dominate our thoughts, it can be difficult to imagine life could be any other way. Can books help us entertain new possibilities? As we enter landscapes and inhabit the characters as they move through, does it stir thoughts of our own paths and ways of being?
I took the following question to the nearest group of book lovers I could find, (the patrons of the Vancouver Word Festival) in late 2016.
“If stories were medicine,
what would you prescribe
for hard times?”
Responses were collected on “community prescription pads” which called for a story and a condition it might help ease. The station provided an opportunity for people to share stories they held dear to their hearts and to consider how others might benefit from reading them. Titles were recommended for inspiration, community connection, surviving post colonialism, opening your mind and grief.
What struck me from the conversations that day, was how valued the act of giving and receiving books from friends in times of crisis was. Many who were unable to recall specific titles were keen to communicate this.
Enquiring a little further about how stories work to help us feel better, the book lovers disclosed the prescriptions didn’t act as simple antidotes, e.g. if you’re feeling sad, read a tale of joy. Rather the ‘right book’, “met you at the place you were at”, matching your tone, and holding your hand awhile, before transporting you else where and engaging you in some form of transformation, before dropping you off on the other side of your woes, perhaps somewhere quite unexpected. I look forward to continuing this line of enquiry and exploring the therapeutic potential of fiction.
Autobiography of Red
"To open your mind"
I Can Jump Puddles
by Allan Marshall
“hard medicine for community connection & healing from post colonialism"
Cancer made me a shallower person
"looking at expectations & challenges"
Everything Is Illuminated by
Jonathan Safran Foer
Sitting with sadness
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Sci-fi holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many people I work with. Octavia Butler is often at the top of people's list.