I’ve always loved reading. When I was a teenager I had a Saturday job at my local library, which I really enjoyed. I think if I hadn’t gone down the therapy path I would probably be a librarian now. I have recently been thinking about what it is I like so much about reading, and the positive effects reading can have for our wellbeing.
Reading and wellbeing have long been linked. In Ancient Egypt one of the earliest known libraries had the beautiful phrase ‘House of Healing for the Soul’ inscribed above its entrance. Leaping forward a few thousand years, the term bibliotherapy was first used in 1916, when it had become quite common for literature to be used by therapists, social workers and doctors to assist their patients.
There are several ways in which reading can be helpful…
I often suggest books and handouts for clients to read outside of therapy sessions, as this can deepen their understanding of things we’ve discussed and give them time to reflect.
The ‘Overcoming…’ series of books is particularly good for this, as they tend to use cognitive behavioural techniques and are written by some of the leading experts in the field.
Reading about other peoples’ experiences with depression or anxiety can help us to realise that we are not alone – we are not the first or only person to feel this way, and there is hope.
In a previous blog I reviewed Sarah Wilson’s fabulous book, ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful’, which explored her journey through mental health difficulties and various approaches she had tried to improve her wellbeing.
“This is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings; that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
When we are experiencing something which is difficult to put into words it can be such a relief to see how someone else has expressed it through the written word. Perhaps a poem captures our experience or we can relate to a character in a story.
Reading can provide a welcome, soothing escape from distress as we journey to different worlds, such as Middle-earth, Discworld or Phillip Pullman’s Oxford.
Depression and anxiety are often linked with loneliness but reading can be a great way to connect with others. Use reading as a way to spark a conversation with someone, or join a local reading group.
A word of warning and encouragement: when we are struggling with depression or anxiety it may be difficult to focus on reading, but don’t let this put you off. Think about what kind of book is going to be easiest to read – perhaps try something you have already read or something aimed at children or young adults. Also, don’t expect yourself to sit and read for hours. Set a smaller goal of a few pages instead, and slowly increase.
Things to explore…
The Reader – Based at the beautiful Calderstones Park in South Liverpool, The Reader is a national charity on a mission to bring people together to enjoy great literature.
Sefton libraries – visit your local branch.
Reading Well – Our local libraries’ self-led books on prescription programme includes suggestions for books to help with depression and anxiety.
Tolstoy Therapy – a fabulous resource of articles about the benefits of reading and book recommendations by someone whose journey in overcoming PTSD involved CBT and a lot of reading!
The Novel Cure by Ella Bertoud and Susan Elderkin – a nice little reference book which gives literary recommendations whatever your mood or situation.