Bibliotherapy: Healing Through Reading

Bibliotherapy is the use of books to encourage healing, improve emotional wellness and treat mental disorders. The concept is not new. In ancient Greece, the library of Thebes was considered “a healing place for the soul.”

In 1916, Atlantic Monthly published an article called “A Literary Clinic” where the author shares a conversation with friend, Bagster, who ran “Bibliopathic Institute: Book Treatment by Competent Specialists.” Bagster explained that not all books have a therapeutic effect, but some he considered “stimulants” which “do not so much furnish us with thoughts as set us thinking. They awaken faculties which we had allowed to be dormant. After reading them we actually feel differently and frequently we act differently. The book is a spiritual event.”

Most resources indicate that bibliotherapy only applies to fiction, but SELF ReClaimed and Welsh psychiatrist Neil Frude expand that definition.

In 2003, Frude discovered that his patients who were reading self-help books about their own conditions, namely depression, was serving an almost identical function to meeting with a therapist face-to-face. He used the term “magic” to describe the efficacy of bibliotherapy. The National Health Service doctors in England actually began “prescribing” self-help books to their depressed patients as part of a national program in June 2013.

 The objectives of Bibliotherapy include:

  1. Increase your understanding of human behavior
  2. Develop your self-concept
  3. Help foster an honest self-assessment
  4. Inspire you to find interests outside of yourself
  5. Experience emotional or mental relief
  6. Give you a sense of belonging by reading about others’ similar experiences
  7. Show you different solutions to a problem
  8. Help you engage in open conversation
  9. Aid in a course of action to solve a problem
  10. Teach new skills for easier life transition

Bibliotherapy is one of the three successful therapies used in SELF ReClaimed along with Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Inside the SELF ReClaimed toolkit, you will find over 150 great book titles that focus on 33 words/topics such as Love, Willpower, Joy, Faith, Freedom and Peace.

You can also find several book recommendations from SHAPE practitioners in this article: Helpful Resources for Your SHAPE Journey


Updated 1-25-22