The Reading Remedy: Bibliotherapy in Practice

Article excerpt

Bibliotherapy is an umbrella term for related ideas for using books to help people with mental and physical health problems. The beginnings of bibliotherapeutic work are examined, and developments involving public libraries in the UK reviewed. It is concluded that the infrastructure of bibliotherapy schemes is already present in the day to day operation of a public library service, and that most depressed people may benefit from bibliotherapeutic interaction. From a 2007 research project three subsections of bibliotherapeutic practice emerged. These are self help bibliotherapy, creative bibliotherapy and informal bibliotherapy.

This is the second of three articles published in Aplis. It is published with the permission of the editor of the 'Public library journal' in which it first appeared. The first article was 'Medicine for the soul: bibliotherapy' Aplis 21(3) September 2008 pp 115-119.

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Bibliotherapy is a diverse concept, but one relevant to the aims and objectives of librarianship in the 21st century. The basic premise of bibliotherapeutic work is to provide health information and support using books. At the moment the focus of this endeavour is to supply this information for people with mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety. But it can be expanded to include any medical condition, from obesity to diabetes, that may benefit from monitored self care. Using prescribed self help books to help people with illnesses such as depression is supported within the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on the subject. However there has so far been limited recent research into the practical application of using books to help people.

Bibliotheraputic work also includes working more closely with people and fiction books to impact on people's lives and help them find both pleasure in reading, and release from mental illness. This can include working in groups and on a one to one basis with people, helping them to rediscover--or to discover for the first time--a love of literature. This aspect of bibliotherapeutic work can be viewed as a service that libraries provide anyway--their reader development work and engaging people with fiction and poetry to provide enjoyment, makes, from anecdotal evidence, a contribution to people's mental health and well being.

Libraries are in a unique position to provide input to schemes to provide free access to self help books on the recommendation of the medical profession. A number of UK public library services have set up schemes under the banner of Books on Prescription to enable library users to borrow books, but as yet there is not a national scheme in England or Scotland within which librarians can work. Books on Prescription has become national throughout Wales, having begun in Cardiff in 2003. It allows libraries to contribute to the wide remit of increasing the wellbeing of the community as a whole. The UK's Museums Libraries and Archives refers to the importance of the involvement of the library, stating that

 
   health is more than the absence of illness. The 
   ability to learn, to be creative, to develop 
   personally and grow life skills are part of mental 
   wellbeing and help sustain it. (1) 

The recommendations outlined in this article emerged from a research project carried out between January and September 2007. From the project, three subsections of bibliotherapeutic practice emerged

* self help bibliotherapy--the prescription of nonfiction, advisory books about mental health conditions like depression

* creative bibliotherapy--the use of fiction, poetry, biographical writing and creative writing to improve mental health and well being

* informal bibliotherapy--a focus on creative bibliotherapy techniques in an unstructured manner, including the use of reading groups, recommendations from staff and displays in the library. …