As someone who loves to curl up with a book — any book, good or otherwise — I was interested to read an article about “bibliotherapy,” in an on-line magazine called Ode, which came to me via the DailyGood newsletter. It starts by describing a 17-year-old who suffers from a chronic, incurable disease and who has tried painkillers, acupuncture and physical therapy to control her pain. The only treatment she has found that works is reading, yes, reading. Entering another world in a book was her only escape from pain.
The article goes on to say that reading has been associated with healing for centuries and that in this country psychiatrists were beginning to consider reading as a therapy as early as the 19th century. (This seems like a progressive group of doctors compared to those who invented “electroconvulsive therapy,” commonly known as “shock therapy,” in the 20th century.)
Mind you, picking up anything off a bookshelf that catches your eye may not be therapeutic. Patients need to read the right books if they want to see an improvement, and not only psychiatrists and psychologists, but also “bibliotherapists” are here to help them by creating reading lists and advising them on which books to read to respond to their particular emotional distresses. In some cases, the treatments involve therapists reading to their clients or having them read to a partner. Fairy tales, memoirs of childhood experiences, poetry, and stories of people responding successfully to life’s challenges are among those books you might find on a client’s reading list.
This article got me thinking about the titles of my stack of bedside books, among them How We Die, The Lord of Death, Learning to Die in Miami, and How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Scary. It would be interesting to see what books a bibliotherapist would recommend, not so much as therapy, but simply as an antidote to those on my list.
In their later years, my mother read to my step-father. He was a former English teacher who developed macular degeneration in his 70’s. My mother, also a teacher,had read stories to us as young children and was now reading books to him. They chose biographies, history and novels to read in afternoon when the slant-light sun flooded their bedroom. They loved sharing that time together.