Bibliotherapy and Me (and You)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Do not take medical advice from this post or any Oak & River Books content. Please reach out to a medical professional if you have questions, need advice, or want help. This is for entertainment purposes only. I encourage you to do your own search into any topic presented on the Oak & River Books blog.

Recently, while browsing the shelves at library, I selected a stack of nonfiction books in an effort to explore my personal relationship with bibliotherapy, self-therapy, and self-help. (It was at this time I learned there are self-help books for grieving the loss of a dog, which I should probably read but will likely cry). Stories are powerful in all mediums, but in the series of posts I’ll be doing this time around, the focus will be on non-fiction books. (More to come on video games, audiobooks, ASMR, fiction, and poetry).

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I am doing my final project for graduate school on the creation of a bibliotherapy program, and while I’ve been doing academic research for that, personally I want to explore an array of topics. The following are the books I selected and will be doing a series of blog posts about:

  • The Truth About Grief, by Ruth Davis Konigsberg
  • The Secret Power of Middle Children, by Chaterine Salmon, PhD, and Katrin Schumann
  • Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, PhD
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People
  • Happiness in a Storm, by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, MD
  • The Homing Instinct, by Bernd Heinrich
  • Learning to Listen to the Land, edited by Bill Willers

(It’s worth nothing that George Eliot has been mentioned multiple times in articles I’ve read about bibliotherapy, so I’m making a point to read her popular novels Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss as well).

These books are helping me learn a lot about myself on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. No two people are the same, so everyone will get something different out of what they read. The beauty of clinical bibliotherapy is that someone is there to guide you for your personal needs; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

Have you heard the term “bespoke”? As in, a bespoke suit or bespoke pair of shoes? According to Merrian-Webster, bespoke means that something is custom-made and “made to fit a particular person”. While usually intended for clothes, the term aptly applies to therapy as well. Therapy plans are tailored for their specific participant.

For those who want to help themselves, there are lots of options and methods. The self-improvement industry is worth over $10 billion, and while the pandemic put a damper on in-person events such as conferences, where did we see an uptick? That’s right: books.

What originally started as a medical movement has grown drastically, with various libraries offering bibliotherapy resources and highlighting self-help books.

Self-help and bibliotherapy can be found in many mediums. Books, podcasts, movies, music, video games, etc. I posit that bibliotherapy has three core facets: the stories it helps us remember, the stories it helps us create, and the story itself being told through the poem, book, video game, etc. Are poems and songs stories? Yes, and even songs without lyrics evoke emotions.

And with songs such as The Stable Song by Gregoy Alan Isokov – my favorite song – you cannot convince me that lyrics aren’t poetry.

I should note that true therapy is conducted with a qualified, credentialed therapist. Therapy involves working towards a goal. Below are some examples from the American Music Therapy Association of what music therapy is and is not, and I believe this can similarly this can be applied to bibliotherapy. It’s worth noting that items in the “is not” section can still bring a sense of peace or relaxation, while the things in the next section are specific plans.

Is Not:
– A person with Alzheimer’s listening to an iPod with headphones of his/her favorite songs
– Groups such as Bedside Musicians, Musicians on Call, Music Practitioners, Sound Healers, and Music Thanatologists
– Celebrities performing at hospitals and/or schools
– Nurses playing background music for patients
– A choir singing on the pediatric floor of a hospital

– Work with Congresswoman Giffords to regain her speech after surviving a bullet wound to her brain
– Work with children and adults to reduce asthma episodes
– Work with hospitalized patients to reduce pain
– Work with children who have autism to improve communication capabilities
– Work with premature infants to improve sleep patterns and increase weight gain
– Work with people who have Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function

I read The Secret Power of Middle Children and was not surprised to learn the middle children are generally people pleasers. I got a lot out of that book, actually, and even read some with my mom which opened some great discussion (more on that in that book’s blog post), but it wasn’t therapy. What would have made it therapy? If a therapist had read those passages to me, or “assigned” them as part of a treatment plan to explore my anxieties about disappointing others, it would have been bibliotherapy. But was it self-therapy? That term sounds like an oxymoron now, but yes, I think it was.

As I go through my bookstack I am going to be thinking of how the information helps me and about how it could be useful in both clinical and non-clinical bibliotherapy settings.

If you’re interested in learning more, here are some articles I found interesting and whose info was utilized for this post:
does self-therapy work
19 self-help statistics
market research
PsychCentral This is an easy-to-read article about bibliotherapy. It also presents the first potential negative I’ve come across, which is that propaganda or misleading information could be detrimental to a patient. It is impossible to read every single piece of literature in the world, but as much as possible, I think it makes sense for professionals to only recommend things that they have read, or at least things that have been vetted.

Do you enjoy self-help and self-development books? What is the last one you read?

And if you have any experience with bibliotherapy, let me know in the comments!

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