Do you enjoy the arts? Have you ever wanted to see how getting creative can help you mentally? This feature is just one in a series of entries exploring the different types of creative arts therapy. You can learn more about other outlets here!
The truth is, reading can be difficult. You may not have the time to settle down with a book to read, or you may get so overwhelmed with all the options that you don’t know where to start. Reading can also sound like a burden and a commitment, and it can be hard to pay attention to what you’re trying to read, especially given all the kinds of distractions surrounding you (see: your phone).
This is particularly true for adolescents. According to a 2018 survey, 1 in 3 teenagers have admitted to not reading a book for pleasure in a year. It may not seem appealing if you associate reading with the dry assignments you have to do for school, and it can feel so much easier to simply spend your free time on a device – the same survey found a relationship between the decrease of adolescents reading and an increase in technology use, for example.
If you do read leisurely, you may already know that it is a genuinely relaxing activity. There are benefits to reading to support mental health that include relaxation, improved sleep patterns, and increased brain activity. That can be taken a step further though in the form of bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy is a method that uses books (both nonfiction and fiction) to help people address issues that they are dealing with. In bibliotherapy, you meet with an expert, explain what difficulties and struggles you’re going through, and they’ll prescribe you some books to read that they think might help that you can read on your own at your convenience.
Bibliotherapy doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have to read books just about mental health in order to understand why you feel the way you do. Most books used are usually novels: fiction gives us the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and increase our empathy not just towards the character, but with others. A study has also shown that when people read about another’s experience (in this case, with a fictional character), their brains react in a way as if they’re going through the same things themselves. The topics can be about anything, with stories not just about adolescent characters coping with mental health issues, but potential origins of stress, like their identity, homelessness, or chronic illness.
You may have experienced this already in the books you’ve read for yourself, or even ones you’ve read for school. We find ourselves connecting with certain characters and stories because of the way we relate to them; bibliotherapy takes that to another level in helping you discover which books can help and using said books as a driving tool to help you communicate with your therapist, your friends, or other loved ones to have them understand how you’re feeling. They don’t even have to be “realistic” stories either – you may relate to the stories and struggles about any kind of character, whether it be in a wizard in a fantasy world, a bounty hunter in space, or a teenager living in historical times.
There still needs to be more research done on bibliotherapy as a practice since it isn’t widely used, but it shows that reading isn’t just a way to unwind, but also a way to help you address what you’re going through via other’s stories.
Would you consider trying bibliotherapy? Have you read any books that have helped you with your mental health? What kinds of characters or stories have you related with?