Bibliotherapy: Doctors Are Now Prescribing Books to Treat Depression

Bibliotherapy: Doctors Are Now Prescribing Books to Treat Depression


Books are arguably the greatest gift that Mankind has even given to….well… Mankind. Long and short, fiction and non-fiction, e-book and paperback. Without a doubt, books have given us access into some the greatest minds ever – dead and alive, human and divine. Enter bibliotherapy

“Living your life is a long and dodgy business…and stories and books help. Some help you with the living itself. Some help you just take a break. The best do both at the same time.” – Anne Fine, author of “Goggle Eyes.”

It’s not so surprising, then, that doctors are prescribing reading to our fellow human beings. These patients suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional problems.

Bibliotherapy Treats Depression

Of course, we think of “treatment” for mental illness as someone on a therapist’s couch. Or, we envision some expensive, over-the-top advertisement for the latest prescription drug. Then again, you may see a picturesque treatment center surrounded by a lush garden and flowing water…

However, Bibliotherapy has been around longer than any of the aforementioned treatments.

But, you might wonder, what is the definition? We define bibliotherapy as the use of designated reading materials designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. Indeed, it’s a smart idea! However, it’s not a new one.

In fact, the ancient Greeks used to post a sign above their library halls with the words “healing place for the soul.

Heck… what would Socrates and Aristotle know, anyways? Oh… yeah…the whole “laying the foundations of Western thought” thing…

But it’s not just some of the greatest minds of the ancient world. Fast forward to 2014. Indeed, you’ll find some of the world’s best academic institutions and mental health professionals singing Bibliotherapy praises.

In the United States, “reading therapy” began in many hospitals as a supplement to other types of treatments. Medical professionals determined that books with heavy emotional and intellectual emphasis had the ability to uplift and strengthen a patient – both mentally and physically. The stronger tie of the book to the patient’s circumstances, the more it seemed to help.

How Bibliotherapy is thought to work

Have you ever gotten “lost” in a good book? The same kind of feelings and interactivity between the reader and the book are what bibliotherapy is all about.

There are two elements of therapy at play in bibliotherapy – expressive and psychological. The expressive element of the therapy focuses on the healing nature of a book. On the other hand, the psychological element focuses on exactly the mental, emotional and internal relationship between the reader and the book.

In theory, bibliotherapy is more dependent upon the emotional interaction of the “book-reader” relationship than the actual intellectual understanding of the literature. A literary work’s worth is determined entirely by its ability to provoke a therapeutic reaction from the person.

In other words, the book needs to create some relief of certain emotional or mental pressures.

One of the main concepts of bibliotherapy is called universalization. And that is the realization that you are not alone in your thoughts or struggles. While going through any problem, a common feeling is that of isolation and hopelessness. In bibliotherapy, it’s crucial for an individual to realize two things: that they are not alone and that others have experienced the same problems and overcame them.

Who Bibliotherapy can help

The therapy is used to help people of all ages and with a wide range of emotional, mental, physical and social issues. Some of the problematic experiences that people have countered with Bibliotherapy include:

-Learning disabilities



-Depression and anxiety

-General Stress

-Sexual, physical and emotional abuse

-Loneliness and isolation

-Financial problems

-Job loss

-Relationship problems

Types of Bibliotherapy

For advocates and therapists, there is one core belief: bibliotherapy requires some form of reading. Now, let’s set this common thread aside.

Of course, there are different beliefs and schools of thought on the type of book, amount of therapy required, and therapist involvement.

On one side, self-help books require almost no therapist involvement – the book itself is the catalyst of treatment. On the other end of the continuum, bibliotherapy serves as a therapeutic aid. And, the involvement of a therapist is crucial.

Usually, the type of therapy used depends upon the theoretical leanings of the therapist. In fact, there are two primary “schools” of thought for bibliotherapy: “cognitive” and “affective.”

Cognitive (thinking)

Therapists involve either no therapist or minimal therapist involvement. As the learning functions of a person are believed to be the main factor in treatment, therapy involves non-fiction works. And, all media works well–including apps with actionable learning outcomes. The main concern is the improvement of the reader’s problem-solving ability and mental functioning.

Affective (behavioral)

Therapists believe in the power of fiction to help people. Therapy places significant emphasis on the evocation of emotional responses through character interaction. Affective therapists believe that as a character works out a problem, the reader becomes emotionally involved; thus identifies with the struggles of the character and the resolution of the problem.

Where reading therapy has shown a tremendous amount of promise is with children. When experiencing difficulty and hurt, children are the most vulnerable. Tragically, these kids often have nowhere to turn and no one to help see them through.

On the positive side children are also very open to love, support, and guidance. Perhaps, just as important, children are also creative and open minded. Characters in literature often pop off the page for them, and they are very receptive to the message. This can help them tremendously in identifying with the character and the resolution of the problem.

Conclusion on Bibliotherapy

Books can touch our soul, strengthen our mind, and broaden our perspective. We identify with the words, the characters, and the human experience within the pages.

And so, anyone that has read a truly great book can speak to the fact that they can change your life.

Because reading a good book might bring some answers to difficult questions, our fellow humans in need benefit. Also, it may be useful in changing their hearts and healing their minds.

So, are you now interested in learning more? If so, check out the American Art Therapy Associates and the National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy.

4 thoughts on “Bibliotherapy: Doctors Are Now Prescribing Books to Treat Depression

  1. in those 2-3 days I was really hopeless . and helpless .sir I am not able trust any doctor .
     Sir I need a really genuine advice .i am very confused that what should  I go for . I am trying my best not to use any sort of conventional medicine and cure depression through meditation pranayam and other methods of holistic healing. i am also trying to learn transcendental meditation of maharishi mahesh yogi to recover from depression .Sir I want to know that if I should go for allopathic treatment for this or it can be cured by yoga..if I should go for a psychiatrist then where should I go . I am very afraid of psychiatrist in private sector because one of them had diagnosed me with mild bipolar disorder and told me that I have to take medicines for minimum two years… sir I am reaalllyy..confused. please help me .
    Sir I belong to a hindu Brahmin family  grown up in a highly orthodox family . I am pure vegetarian and  had never touched even an egg. I don’t drink nor do I smoke . still I don’t know why I am facing depression. Sir after  these depressive episodes my religious beliefs have also changed . I am gradually turning to an atheist . I had read that changes in religious beliefs is also  a cause of depression . I hope you will pay heed to my request…
    Thanking you

    1. First, our thoughts and the thoughts of this community are with you, wherever you are. Second, we know how you feel about being down and confused – we’ve been there too. The best thing you can do to start is surround yourself with people who are where you desire to be and let their ripple effect take place in your life. You’re in a great place, just reading this alone. There’s a lot to learn here and we hope you’ll stay to read more. Welcome 🙂

  2. I am currently working in Indian air force since 4 years. Initially when I got enrolled I was not satisfied with my job and got frustrated very often. I had completed my second year graduation from pune university when I got enrolled. After 2 yrs of frustration I felt that I had lost my interest from all my hobbies and also felt very lethargic all day long I use to sleep excessively . I cant concentrate upon my job and felt isolated form my colleagues. At that time I felt that I am in depression but after few days I was again normal. But after that my mood swings into depression and normal phase..after some time this depressive phase was triggered very frequently . I told this to a doctor at military hospital. They admitted me for 10 days and kept me under observation . but at that time I read motivational and inspiration books of Vivekananda so I didn’t felt depressed in those ten days and I was sent back to my unit .as a mentally fit soldier. But after few days I felt again the same symptoms of depression . then i had gone for a private psychiatrist . he diagnosed me with mild bipolar disorder and prescribed me lithium carbonate 400 mg tabs . two times daily. I had taken lithium pills for 3 months . but I had seen bipolar patients at military hospital and when I compared myself with them I thought I am in no way a bipolar so I had gone for another psychiatrist he diagnosed me with general anxiety disorder and prescribed me escitalopram oxalate .sir I read a lot about this on internet and found that lithium is used to stop the maniac phase among bipolar. Which I think I had never experienced . so I had stopped all the medicines . I had also read that meditation is good for curing depression so I tried a lot to meditate. But still I experience depressive phase in every 2 or 3 weeks.please help me..

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