“Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity”
Beautiful quote isn’t it? It’s a line from the book ‘Reasons to stay alive’ by Matt Haig, that follows the authors’ life struggle with anxiety and depression. In the book Matt credits his new found love of reading and writing for helping him on the road to recovery. It turns out this is a well-known form of therapy called Bibliotherapy that dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks. Nowadays Bibliotherapy (defined as the use of books as therapy in treating mental or psychological disorders) takes many forms, from literature courses to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia.
I’m sure most of us have heard the phrase ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’ and this phrase actually has a wealth of scientific backing. The personal health benefits of reading range from memory improvement to stress reduction, so it makes sense that this popular past-time is being used by medical and healthcare professionals as a viable method of therapy. I suffered quite badly with post-natal depression last year. It took over my life and made me want to lock myself away from everyone including my young daughter. In those dark times the things that brought me pleasure were few and far between but reading was one of them. Reading fiction can take you away from yourself, yet at the same time it can help you realise that the world is much bigger than the bubble you create for yourself when you suffer from any mental illness. It helps to create a sense of perspective.
Studies have shown that reading puts our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state similar to meditation and it brings the same health benefits. Avid readers sleep better, have higher self-esteem, lower stress levels and lower rates of depression than non-readers. Over many decades reading has helped groups as diverse as psychiatric prisoners and Vietnam veterans. It has also been shown to ease symptoms in specific illnesses such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Writing is also thought to be a valid form of therapy especially for those suffering from post-traumatic stress or for those of us feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of modern day life. I have kept journals for the last 12 years and for me there is no better form of therapy than writing down all my frustrations and worries on a piece of paper – it’s like a release. However, it is important to keep these writings for your eyes only so you can write without fear of judgement. For those suffering from more severe depression or from post-traumatic stress disorder where the root cause of the illness is more obscure, then a ‘mind dump’ exercise can be very helpful. The idea is to put pen to paper and write solidly for at least 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter what you write and don’t edit your work or worry about grammar, just write down whatever pops into your head. You will be amazed at what you can discover about yourself! It can also be a great way to help those who struggle to express themselves verbally or for those who are sceptical about talking therapies.
Bibliotherapy is cheap, readily available and works on everything from anxiety to depression. Therefore, permanently solidifying its place as a valid form of therapy!
Carla is a part-time freelance writer and mum to her 2-year-old daughter. She has always had a passion for reading and since having her daughter she has become increasingly interested in young people’s learning. She even hopes to publish her own children’s stories one day! In September 2015 Carla set up her own company, Clever little Cherubs, as an Independent Usborne Organiser selling brand new children’s books and setting up local events to inspire a love of reading. Working with Usborne has given Carla access to books written specifically to support the improvement of literacy in children.
Carla’s aim is to inspire a love of reading in every child as she strongly believes that all children deserve to experience the enjoyment that comes from reading books.