The Library- “A Healing Place for the Soul”

bibliotherapy“In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.”  This is the essence of why we love fiction and why readers of fiction find it so essential to their soul.

The New Yorker recently published an in-depth article, from which I obtained the above quote, about something every library patron probably knows intuitively, but didn’t know there was a name for- bibliotherapy.  It is the reading of certain “prescribed” books, especially fiction, for the treatment of mental conditions like depression and anxiety.  According to the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science, it is:

“The use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. Ideally, the process occurs in three phases: personal identification of the reader with a particular character in the recommended work, resulting in psychological catharsis, which leads to rational insight concerning the relevance of the solution suggested in the text to the reader’s own experience. Assistance of a trained psychotherapist is advised.”

Although bibliotherapy has been in the news recently, it is actually an ancient form of therapy.  The ancient Greeks inscribed “a healing place for the soul” above the door to the library of Thebes.  More recently, it was used to treat World War I veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, soldiers in the United Kingdom were prescribed Jane Austen novels as therapy.  The article continues to say that “later in the century, bibliotherapy was used in varying ways in hospitals and libraries, and has more recently been taken up by psychologists, social and aged-care workers, and doctors as a viable mode of therapy.”

It is nice to know that when the stresses of daily life pile up, there is something easy, enjoyable, and free that you can do to change the situation.  Your local public library is often the best place to begin, with our book clubs and staff recommendations.  Although no one at the McAllen Public Library qualifies as a bibliotherapist, we can tell you about our book club, our favorite authors, and point you towards sections that you might enjoy.


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