Friday, April 11, 2014
Are Books Good Medicine?
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This past week I noticed a Facebook post by author James Patterson mentioning myths about books. One myth stated was that books are not important. I have heard that myth mentioned by college students as we discuss reading methods in the College Success courses I teach. Now as a Bookhead, books are very important to me. That myth made me think of how books are important? Reading books is a relaxing flow activity. Books help build the creative side of our mind as well as strengthening our critical thinking abilities. Beyond that I thought is there a health benefit to reading books? Can books be good medicine for the mind and soul?
This brings me to mention a book, Read Two Books and Let’s Talk Next Week by Janice Maidman Joshua and Donna Dimenna. This is a resource book for counselors and therapists in the use of bibliotherapy. Part of me wishes they would have written more in the text on their thoughts about the therapeutic value of reading. It is clear though, that that was not their purpose. What they do in the book is to list relevant books that relate to emotional and mental problems from A-Z. They simply list the books that speak to issues such as abuse, addiction, grief, mental illness, relationships, and many other topics. Almost any problem a therapist may be facing with a client there are books to help the client. Their book is an excellent resource for any counselor or therapist who are interested in incorporating bibliotherapy in their practice.
They point out that they are not trying to replace counselors with books. Instead they point out rightly that inner healing does not magically occur in the one hour office sessions. With bibliotherapy the books act as a between session homework for the person seeking help to gain insight from between the counseling sessions. The counselor can add to the effectiveness by using some session time for the client to open-up and share what they learned from the readings.
What is Bibliotherapy?
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Bibliotherapy points back to the Greek words “biblio” for book and “therapeia” for therapy. History shows that above the door of the library at Thebes read “The Healing Place of the Soul” (Campbell & Smith). It might help if those words where in modern libraries as well. From that we can gather that books can be good medicine for the soul. Campbell and Smith note studies that show the reading of self-help books improves the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
Adams & Pitre did a survey study of Canadian therapists who used bibliotherapy. They were wanting to discover why therapists used books in their counseling practice. The primary reasons the therapists mentioned for using books be it fiction or non-fiction with clients were to: encourage self-help, enhance therapy, clients request, speed the progression of therapy, books can help explain complex ideas, and to assess client motivation. The first reason of encouraging the client to move from dependency on the counselor to pro-actively helping themselves reminds me of a Professor I had in Counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He stated that a counselor’s job is to continually be working themselves out of a job with a client. He meant by this to not make a client dependent on needing a therapist but to give them the life skills to overcome the present problem and to then hopefully be able to solve future problems.
I know over the years I have read books for a variety of reasons. Many favorite Biblical passages have helped me as I sorted out various personal problems. There have also been many self-help books that have aided my growth through difficult times and personal growth. Some that come to mind are just to mention a few:
The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Shad Helmstetter
The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer;
Counselors Are Important
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If you are going through life difficulties and they are life debilitating do find a Counselor in your area to help you. Often a local pastor or priest may be able to recommend a professional Counselor in your area. Here is a link to the American Counseling Association’s help for finding Counselors across the country –
I present this information as a licensed counselor myself, so I do encourage people to seek help with a professional for help with life’s difficulties. On the other hand if you are just trying to improve your life and the difficulties you face are not that large you may instead want to visit your local library, “The Healing Place of the Soul” according to the ancient Greeks. There at the library do a search for a book that relates to the self-growth area you are exploring.
Reflection: What is a self-help book that helped you in your inner growth or through a difficult time in your life?
Adams, S.J. & Pitre, N.L. ( 2000). Who Uses Bibliotherapy and Why? A Survey From an Underserviced Area. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 48. 645-649.
Campbell, L.F. & Smith T. P. (2003). Integrating Self-Help Books in Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy in Practice. 59. 177-186