Sunday, August 30, 2015


Bibliotherapy: An expressive therapy that uses an individual's relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Wikipedia.

Are you weary in Brain and Body? Do you desire a Positive Cure for your Pessimism? Do you require Bronte to re-boot your Broken Heart? May we administer Austen to curb your Arrogance? Hemingway for your Headache? Are you Shy, Single, Stressed or Sixty? May we massage you with Murakami? Ease your pain with Woolf or Wodehouse? 

An A-Z of Literary Remedies
by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin

When a friend introduced the topic of Bibliotherapy to me via her daughter, who saw an article in The New Yorker, Can Reading Make You Happier by Ceridwen Dovey, I nearly jumped out of my chair! Of course I thought! (Illustration By Sarah Mazzetti).

Aside from being entertaining (mostly), reading takes me away and reminds me of the beauty, melody and magic of words. It gives me a grander context from which to view my own existence, increases my empathy and compassion, exercises my mind and fabulously expands my knowledge. Self-help books are one of the largest genres published. We consciously and unconsciously pick and choose books all the time as tools to help us deal with life.

I was particularly taken by the following statements in Dovey’s article:

Berthoud and Elderkin trace the method of bibliotherapy all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’  

The new, adapted ailments are culturally revealing. In the Dutch edition, one of the adapted ailments is “having too high an opinion of your own child”; in the Indian edition, “public urination” and “cricket, obsession with” are included; the Italians introduced “impotence,” “fear of motorways,” and “desire to embalm”; and the Germans added “hating the world” and “hating parties.” Berthoud and Elderkin are now working on a children’s-literature version, “A Spoonful of Stories,” due out in 2016.

A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of MRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.

Let’s see … feel like your life sucks? Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Self-esteem problems? Read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett. Need a hero? Read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Need to laugh? Read A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. 

The doctor is in!

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