Taking care of our minds in troubling times can be tricky. But can we seek comfort from our bookshelf? Natural Health investigates…
Losing yourself in a book can feel like a magical process, but the influence it has on your mind is, according to experts, equally remarkable. Literature and healing have gone hand-in-hand since ancient Greece, when Grecian libraries were speculated to have restoratitive powers. We also used books in the early 19th century as a rehabilitation method; during and after the World Wars, a practice called bibliotherapy played a part in helping soldiers deal with forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Modern day science backs it up too: findings by the University of Sussex show that if you want to calm down and detress, reading a newspaper or a book works better and faster than listening to music, going for a walk or sitting down with a cup of tea. Even finding a spot to read aloud a poem can help slow your heartbeat and, as a result, lower your blood pressure and stress levels. But what is it about turning the page of a novel that makes us feel so at peace? The answer is more multifaceted than you might think.
Many of us can probably relate to feeling calm or happy when lost in a book, and if reading has always been a factor in your life it makes sense that it should be part of your self-care routine too. Bibliotherapy takes the reading experience to the next level, fine-tuning the text to your needs. “Bibliotherapy isn’t just the act of reading, it’s also about the dialogue and your reflections to the text that can lead to a whole new dimension of insight,” says Leah Larwood, a wellbeing practitioner and trainee bibliotherapist (themoonlab.net). “Bibliotherapy can be used clinically alongside therapy, practised in individual or group sessions, or without a therapist at all. If you’re working with a bibliotherapy facilitator, the group leader needs to be a skilled listener – someone who makes accurate and empathetic interpretations of the participants’ responses. Through literature and dialogue, the facilitator will draw out self-understanding, which can lead to healing and resolution.”
Books have always been used, in part, to help us understand each other. Think of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times or Anne Frank’s Diary, but they’re also a powerful tool in helping us understand ourselves better. “Bibliotherapy often involves working with our memories,” says Leah. “It can also lead to integration of self, encourage self-compassion, boost self-esteem and even morale. It’s also a way to discover new insights, which often come into focus or awareness during the reading process. Simply put, bibliotherapy offers another way to develop yourself and to deal more creatively with those things that can’t always be changed. Plus, it’s a selfempowering tool that you can use throughout your life.” We can also consider the popularity of book clubs in this context. “Meeting in a group can add to the healing as there’s a huge amount of potential working with peers in this type of work,” says Leah. All the more reason to join a book club in 2021.
“People might find it helpful to work with a wellbeing facilitator – where the right creative materials, texts, exercises and approaches will be on hand,” says Leah. “However, it’s possible to still reap the benefits from bibliotherapy working independently. It’s important to hit upon the right piece of writing, book, poem or text that is suited to your specific needs. A good starting point would be to write a list of all the areas in your life where you are looking for clarification, focus or healing. Say for example you struggle with putting your needs first, research books that explore this in some shape or form. For example, there’s a great book called Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet the expectations of the world, and trust in the voice deep inside us.” You might also like to set yourself a loose goal to your bibliotherapy pursuits. “For example, ‘I am using bibliotherapy as a way to explore and overcome my divorce, low mood or despondency in my career’,” says Leah. “Once you’ve hit on the right poetry collection, self-help book or novel, the rest is simple. You might like to try some journalling alongside your reading to document your observations and feelings. An important part of the process of bibliotherapy is reflecting and integrating the experience with your own.”
Everyone’s reading tastes and needs are individual. But there are a few universal books that can tap into our minds and make us feel understood and connected. Here are a few to jot down on your 2021 list:
Matt Haig’s protagonist finds herself suspended in a library, halfway between life and death, where she has a chance to see the unlived lives and make things right.
Out 12th of January 2021 A novel about friendships, childhood bonds and the duty we have to the environment around us; protagonist Cadie must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the forest she loves. Lovers of Where The Crawdads Sing will enjoy this book.
Out 9th of February 2021 Nell Frizzell candidly talks about her own panic years, opening up the conversation around having children and how paralyzing decision making can be.
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