Bibliotherapy- A Deeper Examination
Bibliotherapy, the use of books in the treatment and management of psychological disorders, is one of the oldest and most well-known tools in a therapist’s toolbox. Most people who have not ever been to therapy or even known someone who has are familiar with this concept. Most clients are open to this as a method of treatment and it seems almost common sense at this point that there are benefits to reading to improve mental conditions. But, when asked what exactly bibliotherapy provides in terms of benefits, most clients and therapists alike are limited to responses of generalities like education, relaxation, or fun. These are not incorrect descriptions of benefits of bibliotherapy, but they lack any depth in terms of what bibliotherapy provides that other interventions do or do not. I would like to explore bibliotherapy more in this blog to both help inform clients of the benefits of bibliotherapy and also to compare specific differences between bibliotherapy and other therapeutic methods. This could allow clients to understand bibliotherapy as well as make better decisions of what therapeutic strategies fit for them.
A quick aside before delving into the details of bibliotherapy. I personally define bibliotherapy as any reading of fiction, nonfiction, fanfiction, comics, and even textbooks. Essentially any kind of reading besides manuals or pamphlets, and those works that cover topics totally irrelevant to mental health like the history of the printer or cookbook. Books or other forms of text like blogs or fanfiction online that cover anything to do with the human experience can be useful in bibliotherapy. Topics such as psychology, wellness, brain science, relationship strategies, etc. are the obvious areas of focus. But other areas like history, adventure, myth, fantasy, or even romance can be filled with lessons and information that we can relate to and implement in our own lives. Furthermore, there are an astonishing number of books out that fall into the “self-help” section of bookstores. While some of them have surely helped people immensely, I caution many of my clients to understand that mental health treatment is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Many self-help books will make claims that in 5 or 7 “easy” steps one can “cure” anxiety or depression. In my exploration of some of these books, I do not often encounter anything truly harmful or counterproductive. But more importantly, I also almost never see anything that notes that individual differences are important. I do not discourage use of these books but I do want to temper anyone’s hopes that a quick and easy process of steps that claim to work for everyone will cure all of their mental troubles.
The Fun of Bibliotherapy
With full knowledge this may remind you of a 3rd grade teacher preaching to his/her class about the fun of reading, it is true for many that bibliotherapy can increase joy in life! Reading is an act of pleasure for many people by default, but for those who have never really enjoyed reading, understand it is like any other hobby. Hobbies may start off difficult or less than fun, but over time grow on you as part of your routine and become more enjoyable. The practice of bibliotherapy uses the pleasure of reading as a positive addition to one’s life. Compare this with another therapeutic intervention many are familiar with- exercise. Exercise can be difficult at first but often becomes enjoyable quickly when practiced regularly. Let’s also look at how bibliotherapy can be productive and enjoyable.
The most important thing of making bibliotherapy a positive impact on your life is to choose to read something you enjoy! Like other forms of media, there is no reason to read something that doesn’t hold your interest. Bibliotherapy is not supposed to be like school, where books are assigned and demanded to be finished by certain times. I once recommended a book to a client who after 3 weeks told me they finished the book but found the writer to be extremely boring. I asked why they felt the need to finish, and they said “well, you assigned it to me!” Please never feel any hesitation to tell a therapist that their bibliotherapy recommendation is not for you. This is not supposed to be a negative on your joy in life, it is supposed to be a positive. Watching a TV show you do not like is a waste of time, just as reading a book you did not like would be. Bibliotherapy can be a great way to start a new hobby of reading for enjoyment, but it will require you to find the type of reading materials that keep you engaged.
Bibliotherapy as Psychoeducation
Psychoeducation is a fancy way of saying that you are learning about what is going in in your own mind. Therapists often start with psychoeducation for clients who are new to therapy and/or are experiencing any mental condition for the first time. While psychoeducation in session is crucial and one of my favorite aspects of therapy, bibliotherapy is another major source of psychoeducation. There are so many great books and even blogs that describe other people’s experiences with mental issues, as well as more technical books that describe the physiological side of mental health. A few books are also very famous and widespread, so it is easy to find others who are familiar with them to discuss.
Bibliotherapy is also self-education, which I believe has major benefits even above and beyond being educated by another. There is a feeling of understanding as well as accomplishment when one uses bibliotherapy to understand their own mental status. Many people find that reading material about conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders gives them a feeling of control over these conditions they did not previously have. Feelings of empowerment through bibliotherapy are a huge benefit that is hard to replicate in other ways. A secondary benefit of this empowerment and education is that you can be helpful in both educating others to things you may be struggling with, as well as being an assistance to those with similar problems. Bibliotherapy is a great source of understanding what we are going through and there are almost endless resources available these days.
Bibliotherapy as Relaxation
Bibliotherapy, considering it is the act of reading, is also a great way to have more relaxation. Other relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga are effective of course, but bibliotherapy can be even more relaxing than those due to not needing to be in a particular mental state through practice. One of my favorite forms of self-care for myself is to read an educating but also stimulating book in the park near where I live. In fact, I’ve noticed that afterwards I feel more energized as if I took a nap or ate a quality meal. An activity like bibliotherapy that can leave one rested, be enjoyable, and educate us to how to better ourselves is a rare case of a no-lose opportunity. It is important to realize that relaxation can also be productive, and it is not necessarily leisure to be reading. Bibliotherapy combines both the benefits of relaxation with the benefits of being productive and working towards self-improvement.
Bibliotherapy is a very helpful strategy in improving mental health. If you want to learn more about bibliotherapy please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.