Mirror-posted from According to Hoyt this morning.
A meta-analysis of the utilization of, and reading recommendations for effective bibliotherapy in a non-clinical setting.
Bibliotherapy is the use of reading to improve mental health, reduce anxiety, and increase ‘mindfulness.’
Firstly, what is mindfulness? Psychology Today defines it neatly. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” In other words, rather than flowing through life on autopilot, we pay attention to our surroundings, to the people around us, and more important, to why we react and feel the way we do. This self-analysis is vital to living in harmony with our self, and with others. A good thing. And reading can enhance it?
A study published in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, examines the result of a small pilot trial of only 37 people, finding that fully 89% of them completed it, and the majority reported a reduction in stress, anxiety, and an improvement in mindfulness and resilience. What were they reading? Materials on how to reduce stress, without training, simply given the material to read. This is interesting, but perhaps not appealing to the average reader.
I would insist that books which portray resilience and mindfulness in the characters, without being written specifically to instruct the reader in how to reduce stress and anxiety, are as efficacious in obtaining the desired result.
In the early 1800s when bibliotherapy was first being explored as a treatment (alongside other methods), “It will be useful, as soon as our patients begin to discover any marks of the revival of mind, to oblige them to apply their eye to some simple and entertaining book,” Benjamin Rush wrote. While this is evidently targeted at those who had broken down enough to become a patient, what if the bibliotherapy was instituted much earlier, with the idea of preventative care rather than palliative? In addition, the idea was not met with overall approval. Isaac Ray wrote that “Cheap novels and trashy newspapers are more a cause than a cure of insanity.” The therapy endured, though, and became much recommended whether it was simply to allow the weary mind to escape daily tedium, to meditate, or to seek self-improvement.
In 2012, a study in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy showed quite clearly that bibliotherapy was effective in cases of subthreshold depression. “The results indicated that cognitive bibliotherapy resulted in statistically and clinically significant changes both in depressive symptoms and cognitions, which were maintained at follow‐up. In contrast, placebo was only associated with a temporary decrease in depressive symptoms, without significant cognitive changes.” Subthreshold depression is difficult to define, and has no clear treatment. Most would term it merely a case of the blues. However, most young adults and adults would admit that this is a condition they have found themselves in at some point. Reading, it seems, is an effective self-therapy.
Preventative care, then can be helpful. The study I referenced above followed a group of people for a year. They were given books to read that were not challenging – a 6thgrade reading level – and rated ‘highly interesting.’ The participants then discussed their reading monthly.
The interactive facet of this therapy seems to be an important part of it becoming truly effective for some, and for some purposes, although it is commonly carried out with private readings. A study of a Read-Aloud Group Bibliotherapy for the elderly: an Exploration of cognitive and social transformation, explored the use of group discussions to increase the mind’s ability to remember, endure, and heal. “The idea that literature plays a role in healing has prevailed within nearly all human societies. From the distant past to the present day, humans have witnessed the extraordinary ability of literature to touch the soul, broaden the mind, enhance the imagination and invigorate the human spirit” (Katrina Genuis)
We are convinced, then, that bibliotherapy is a tool we can use in our own lives to improve our minds, our stress levels, and quality of life. How shall we go about this?