Bibliotherapy is the deliberate use of reading for the promotion of emotional well-being and mental health. Since the emergence of the printing press, and people from all walks of life having greater access to the written word, books have been utilised for their therapeutic benefits. Whether it be a poem that inspires emotional self-exploration; a novel that allows you to experience a different world and gives you the words to better describe how you feel; or a non-fiction book that completely shifts the way you think. Just one sentence can spark a chain of reflective thoughts and feelings that can broaden one’s reality and facilitate a new way of thinking. Which is the opposite to what it feels like to struggle with depression or anxiety (and other emotional difficulties), where the mind narrows down our experience to only include painful memories and emotions. Reading can support us to build bigger and better containers where other feelings, emotions, and perspectives can occupy the space, too.
Although books may not always be ideal as a direct replacement for professional psychological support, they are a fantastic tool to use alongside psychological interventions and, in my experience, can speed up the therapeutic process. If I think it’s appropriate, I will recommend books to client’s sometimes as early as the initial assessment, as it empowers them to pursue other ways of supporting themselves in addition to therapy.
However, it is also important to keep in mind that the idea of reading to some people is not inviting. Sometimes this can be because of how they feel, and the very thought of trying to fit reading into their mind is overwhelming. Alternatively, books may not have been a part of someone’s life growing up, so their curious mind (something all humans are born with) was never nurtured in this particular way. Or, their experience of school was so negative that the thought of reading is too strongly associated with forced learning. Either way, if you’re not interested in books, that is okay. My recommendations are only recommendations, and there is no pressure to go through with it if you feel it’s not for you. Reading is a tool, and not all tools are useful to all people. However, I say this with one caveat: going forward, see if you can be curious about the idea of reading, you never know what you might discover in the process…
Below I have tried my best to categorise specific themes and then included a list of books that may help with coping with that particular theme. Of course, this list is not exhaustive of all the books that could help with one specific difficulty. Instead, they are books that my clients or myself have read and felt that they could offer something valuable. Remember, mental health difficulties don’t occur in isolation: our past, present, future, genetic makeup, relationships, and the whole world around us including the people in it all contribute to who we are at any one time. Therefore, a holistic approach to books from all types of genres can expand the way we think and support us to live a better life.
Be sure to check-in on the below list as it is ever-growing and regularly being added to. I have also included other resources such as podcasts which are another wonderful source of information.
Good luck on your journey of exploration!