I believe that stories and poems have the ability to heal and help holistically address many issues including depression, pain, isolation, stress, anxiety and grief. I also know that they can help “make a moment matter” when read to people living with dementia. As Virginia Woolf once said, “Books are the mirrors of the soul.”

Words and literature are powerful tools and can make us feel better by connecting us with the lives and situations of the characters. We can use them as a vessel to relate to others how we may be feeling. Used in bibliotherapy, they have enormous healing properties and are capable of enabling a deep connection to the work and to others, when read out loud in an intimate group setting. They allow us to come together, to talk at the same table.

Origins of bibliotherapy

The word bibliotherapy originates from the Greek words for book ‘biblion’ and healing ‘therapeia.’ An American minister, Samuel Crothers, combined the Greek words in 1916 to describe bibliotherapy as a ‘process in which specific literature, both fiction and non-fiction, was prescribed as medicine for a variety of ailments.’ In the mid-20th century, the use of bibliotherapy began to move away from the hospital environment and into diverse areas of the community including libraries, general medical practice, psychology, criminal justice, nursing, social work, education and occupational therapy.

How it works

It is unlike a book club or reading group; there is no pressure to have critical knowledge of the book. It is my duty as a Bibliotherapist to make personal connections between the content of the books and the people I read to. Every member of the group has an opportunity to read out-loud and this is highly encouraged although, most certainly, not insisted upon.

The text rich titles I use as material will include extracts from the classics, modern literature, short stories and poems. These stories will have no relation to the kind of ailment the group members may be experiencing. My sessions are facilitated to take members away from their troubles for the duration, not to focus or highlight them, unless issues are raised specifically by themselves and are drawn from the reading of the text. It aims to enrich life quality and life spirit through looking for the wisdom to be found in writing.

There are three recognised stages: (1) identification, (2) catharsis and (3) insight.Identification is when a reader relates to the character or situation in the literary work, which leads to a psychological catharsis. Insight is when the reader realises that they relate to the character or situation and learn to deal more effectively with their own personal issues.

What are the benefits?

To share a book by reading out loud can bring insights not forthcoming when we read alone. It’s as if the author is acting as an intermediary, allowing us to broach subjects that there isn’t the time, space or intimacy for in the normal pattern of our lives.

Listening to someone read is deeply comforting. Nourishing and replenishing, there’s a sense - as with a good, home cooked meal - that someone is looking after you and that you can relax into a more passive state. Being removed from the need to take in and translate the marks on the page gives an immense sense of freedom and ease. The mind and imagination move freely and at leisure and the consequence of the story grows deeper and more real.

Tales for Tea

Twitter: @talesfortea