Have you noticed a lot of children running around dressed as Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland or some weird character lately? It is World Book Day!
Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to dress up to celebrate books or World Book Day. You could simply… pick up a book. And if you do that you are celebrating the power of literature and taking part in an activity that has gone on for centuries. An activity that can be used, not just for escape or entertainment or information or pleasure – though reading can give you all those – but as therapy.
The words over the door of the ancient library at Thebes were: “Healing place for the soul,” and the library on your high street or the bookshelf in your living room can do the same trick. Literature has been used for therapeutic purposes since forever, and recent research shows that cognitive bibliotherapy (to give it its proper name) can help to treat the symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia. Another recent study showed that reading novels enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.
So if you are seeking a change in your life and want to do it in the company of people who’ve been there and done that already, a well-chosen novel could do be just the ticket. The American author James Baldwin put it this way,
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read… books taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
Reading fiction can give you a boost of psychological confidence and courage, and spur you on to personal growth while reducing the anxiety associated with any coming change. Not only do good stories help us relate to the hero’s journey, but they also foster empathy. Stories help give relevance and meaning to our lives and generally the central character of a novel is someone who has a trajectory in which they create a more mature — and better — version of themselves. And by reading about them we can embark on an inner or empathic version of that character’s journey.
When people are dealing with depression or anxiety or trying to overcome some form of trauma, they often turn to self-reflection. Reading books in which people are going through similar experiences can encourage this self-reflection and start an internal conversation you can relate to. Reading is also a form of mindfulness in that your mind is fully occupied with something, and therefore all other thoughts and distractions are effectively blocked out.
This is win-win because reading books offers both an escape from thinking about our problems, and also increases compassion to the suffering of others, and by extension a better understanding of our own difficulties. All of which can aid self-growth and encourage healing, as well as helping to decrease anxiety and depression.
Equally telling your own story can set off a powerful healing process. If you would like to discuss your life challenges with a therapist, we have a team of qualified counsellors ready to listen. Just call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] for a confidential appointment.
Five Books to ‘Treat Yourself’ With
Whether you are an awkward adolescent or a love-torn adult there will be a book that can bring perspective to your life. Here are a few you could try
The Harry Potter Series, By JK Rowling
For those feeling excluded or not accepted by society
Jane Eyre, By Charlotte Bronte
For those facing life’s adversities and relationship troubles
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you are trying to come to terms with loss
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
For those trying to overcome a difficult childhood
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
If you want to effect a positive change in your life