Have you ever read a book that totally transformed your outlook on life? Or is there a book you return to, and re-read time and time again because it always gives you comfort and strength? If so, you might have been taking advantage of bibliotherapy without realizing there was a name for it.
Bibliotherapy is the use of books and stories as healing modalities — in other words tapping into the joy of reading as self-care. While reading already comes with a host of physical and mental benefits, such as a longer lifespan and better sleep, bibliotherapy’s specific aim is to use literature to help the reader cope with and improve their life.
Consider reading as a prescription to strengthening your mental health and well-being. “While the general practice of reading as a therapeutic activity dates back to ancient Egypt, medical professionals and counselors have been prescribing books for a hundred years or more,” says Jenni Ogden, PhD, a neuropsychologist and the author of multiple nonfiction and fiction books, including The Moon is Missing. “Books can help people reduce depression, cope with grief and trauma, and improve their mental health. Through stories, readers can self-reflect on problems and empathize with characters who are facing similar issues. It provides a type of catharsis.”
We can also apply the general idea behind bibliotherapy to our own reading choices. By looking at books as tools that can help us…
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Find meaning
- Boost happiness
- Increase empathy
- Cope with grief
- Improve our relationships
- Facilitate self-growth
- And so on
… we can incorporate literature into our own self-care regimens.
The following books can be a great jumping off point when it comes to trying out bibliotherapy.
If you’ve never heard of bibliotherapy until now, this book is the place to start. Full of “medicines” to ease whatever ails you, from stubbed toes to broken hearts, The Novel Cure is both a reference book and a fascinating read about bibliotherapy.
Written by life coach and self-help author Martha Beck, this magical realism tale takes the reader on a journey to self-acceptance and awakening. This is a book meant to help you find yourself when you’re feeling lost, to be at peace when the world seems anything but peaceful, and to reimagine what’s possible for your life.
Probably the most well-known book on this list, Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece weaves a tale of adventure and self-discovery that has enchanted readers since 1988. Dive into this book and learn how to chase your dreams, overcome obstacles, find your purpose, and follow your heart.
We all could use more peace in today’s stressful world. Luckily, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh can help you find it. This profound book teaches you how to practice mindfulness throughout the day and find greater spiritual fulfillment and meaning in life.
If you haven’t read a book by Dr. Brené Brown, this is your sign from the universe that it’s time. Within these pages, you’ll discover how to overcome fear and self-consciousness, embrace perceived “imperfections,” and live an authentic and joyful life.
About the Author: Kelsey Fritts
Kelsey is a writer, editor, anthropologist, and bookworm. She's also the author of two young adult fantasy novels. When she's not out exploring in nature or playing with her ridiculously spoiled dog, you can find Kelsey curled up with a mug of hot cocoa and a novel—likely one by Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, N.K. Jemisin, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin.