Feeling Low? A Bibliotherapist Might Be Able To Help


There’s nothing like a good book to relax your nerves, let your mind explore the vast expanses of faraway lands, and slow down the pace of a stressful world. It’s so effective, there's even a name for it: bibliotherapy.

Susan Elderkin is one of the world’s best-known bibliotherapists, and has been counseling in the field through the School of Life in London since 2007. Patients fill out a questionnaire about their reading habits and issues they might be having, and get a prescription for something that speaks to their specific set of circumstances.

As Elderkin told NPR, “Books, we believe, can help you in many different ways. Sometimes it's a sense of company or solace that you're not the only one who's been in this situation or mental state, and sometimes books cure just through the rhythm of their prose.”

The psychological power of books is well documented. A 2013 study showed that fiction allows readers to better perceive and understand the emotions of others, and another showed that reading could actually change real-life behaviors. 

The concept of bibliotherapy has been around since the early 20th century, and appeared in Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary as early as 1941. There are limitations to the practice of course, as bibliotherapists aren’t medical professionals and can’t adequately address the problems of someone with serious depression or health issues. But for people like psychologists and social workers, bibliotherapy can be a helpful aid in treating patients.

If a literary prescription sounds like a good cure for what ails you, visit the website for The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin, where an A-to-Z list of issues—from apathy to zestlessness—is given a course of treatment.