Bibliotherapy - Bibliotherapy is an expressive therapy that involves the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. These results have been shown to be long-lasting.
Plato said that the muses gave us the arts not for “mindless pleasure” but “as an aid to bringing our soul-circuit, when it has got out of tune, into order and harmony with itself”. It’s no coincidence that Apollo is the god of both poetry and healing; nor that hospitals or health sanctuaries in ancient Greece were invariably situated next to theatres, most famously at Epidaurus, where dramatic performances were considered part of the cure. When Odysseus is wounded by a boar, his companions use incantations to stop the bleeding. And the Bible has the story of David calming Saul: “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
“One sheds one’s sicknesses in books,” DH Lawrence once wrote,
Matthew Arnold and FR Leavis temporarily hijacked it when they argued that great literature - “the best that has been thought and said in all the world” - can make us morally better, by kindling “our own best self”.
For Kate, who has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis for 30 years, the answer is clear: “Reading pushes the pain away into a place where it no longer seems important. No matter how ill you are, there’s a world inside books which you can enter and explore, and where you focus on something other than your own problems. You get to talk about things that people usually skate over, like ageing or death, and that kind of conversation - with everyone chipping in, so you feel part of something - can be enormously helpful.”
When literature is working - the right words in the right place - it offers an orderliness which can shore up readers against the disorder, or lack of control, that afflicts them.
The Reading Cure (Blake Morrison)
“Nurses tell me that patients seem less agitated after our sessions. There is something about poetry, not just the rhythms and rhyme but the way it provides an opportunity to hold a thought together through time, that really helps, even with people who are not natural readers.” Katie’s experiences echo those of Oliver Sacks with patients suffering from severe Parkinson’s disease, who found that “people who could not take a step could dance” and “people who couldn’t utter a syllable could sing”.