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Healing power of words

Doctors utilize literature in therapy

By William Schmidt
On July 15, 2014

A young woman smiles as she reads in the shade. Doctors are beginning to place merit on the benefits of reading on recovery for depressed patients. Though further research is necessary to prove the effects of bibliotherapy  in treatment, those who received books to aid in recovery often report positive results. The Lion’s Roar / Melanie Mann

In June 2013, doctors in the United Kingdom began prescribing books to depressed patients, effecting a trend in bibliotherapy. 

The American Library Association defines bibliotherapy as “the use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illnesses or emotional disturbance.”

The term bibliotherapy was created by the clergyman Samuel Crothers in 1916, but this was not the first time people started to think of books as a way to help with depression.  Ancient Greeks described a library as “a healing place for the soul,” and during WWII soldiers would read while recuperating from injuries.

According to the article “Behavioral bibliotherapy: A review of self-help behavior therapy manuals,” studies have shown “that the validation of available self-help behavior therapy is extremely variable at the present time.”

Teachers have started to use the process for younger students in the classroom. The teacher may be able to help the student identify with a character, who is of similar age, facing similar circumstances. This allows the student to release kept-in negative emotions under safe conditions. This helps the student to come up with a solution to their problems with the teacher’s help. 

The ALA states “ideally, the process occurs in three phases: personal identification of the reader with a particular character in the recommended work, resulting in psychological catharsis, which leads to rational insight concerning the relevance of solution suggested in the text to the reader’s own experience.”

Though bibliotherapy is still in its infancy, other research has shown positive aspects of reading. 

“It could be cathartic, for one, and there is research that exists regarding many positive aspects of reading, especially a good book,” said Daniel Chadborn, a psychology instructor. 

Another way in which bibliotherapy would be beneficial is it gives a student dealing with depression a chance to focus their mind on something other than the violence seen on television, giving them a positive outlook on life. They just need to make sure that they are reading a positive, influential book. 

 “I could only imagine that it could act as a positive way to improve mood, though it may depend on the book and the individual,” said Chadborn. “There would have to be an emphasis on making the reading not assigned or a chore, but something the person can and should enjoy, possibly finding books on their own.”

If you have a friend dealing with depression, recommend a book to read, but be sure to read it first and avoid books with negative topics, such as crime, death, drug-use, abortions and so on. 

Also, if you or anyone you know is dealing with depression, mental issues or any other hardships, seek help from the University Counseling Center.


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