Bibliotherapy: Do Books Have the Power to Heal?

The School of LifeThere’s a unique form of therapy at The School of Life in London (the subject of a recent NPR segment)—it’s called “bibliotherapy.” Through one-on-one sessions, a bibliotherapist creates a reading list for his or her patient, tailoring the selections to the patient’s unique struggles. Susan Elderkin, bibliotherapist, and author of Sunset over Chocolate Mountains (2000) and The Voices (2003), describes why books have the potential to heal:

Sometimes it’s a sense of company or solace that you’re not the only one who’s been in this situation or mental state, and sometimes books cure just through the rhythm of their prose. I mean, there are books which have a wonderfully calming effect on our pulse rate. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea always does it for me. You know, it totally stills me in some really beautiful fundamental way.

(You can listen to the full interview with Susan here.)

The work of the bibliotherapists might sound strangely familiar—like the work of readers’-advisory librarians perhaps? (Ahem!) But there’s no doubt books can be a powerful analgesic, whether by entertaining or eliciting profound introspection. A quirky little video (at link and above), also created by the people at The School of Life, makes the point nicely: “Writers open our hearts and minds and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and less with of a feeling of paranoia or persecution.”

What would you recommend to someone who’s struggling?



About the Author:

Sarah Grant is the Marketing Associate for Booklist. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Grant.

2 Comments on "Bibliotherapy: Do Books Have the Power to Heal?"

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  1. Keir Graff says:

    I can’t think of anything calming and restorative at the moment, but if laughter is the best medicine, how about something funny? Kyril Bonfiglioli’s DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME makes me laugh. (Although some people might say you’d have to be sick to find it funny, which could defeat the point.)

  2. Joyce Saricks says:

    I agree that books have the power to heal; it’s the prescribing that’s tricky, because it’s hard to predict what might be the trigger. When I’m in need of comfort reading, I often re-read. My favorite go-to series for that remains Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chonicles, 6 glorious volumes beginning with Game of Kings and over 3000 pages of beautiful prose, adventure, romance, literary quotations, and historical details.They make me laugh and cry and transport me to another time and place where I can be content.

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