“My day is better than your day,” I texted my husband earlier this month, along with a photo of Goldie, a bedazzled miniature pony visiting the library for Unicorn Story Time. Goldie is a therapy pony. A therapy pony. In the library. I was giddy all day. Clearly I’m late to the party, as everyone I’ve gushed to about this experience is already familiar with Goldie and the Mighty Mini Horse Therapy Program in Ridgway.
Alternative therapy programs take many forms. Bibliotherapy is the use of books to help people cope with a variety of issues, including mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Books and reading are always involved, yet the audience and approach can be quite different.
The practice of using books for comfort and guidance has existed for hundreds of years, though the term bibliotherapy wasn’t coined until the early 1900s. At its most basic, bibliotherapy is intentional reading of fiction or nonfiction books selected to help readers work through issues such as grief, addiction, and anorexia. The thoughtful reading and discussion of books is one way to promote personal health and well-being.
Bibliotherapy can take more creative forms, depending on the participants and the setting. For example, the “Reading Club,” (in Children and Libraries, 2018) is a bibliotherapy program run for many years in a children’s hospital in Sweden. “Bringing comfort, reading, and a listening ear can make a big difference,” write the author/librarians Eva Selin and Karin Graube. They choose books tailored to each child, and spend time reading to them one-on-one in their hospital rooms. The children range in age from toddlers to young teens. The program has improved the quality of life for patients and their families: among the results the librarians observed were increased focus and concentration; parents developing the practice of reading to their children; a distraction from pain; and greater calm. An eleven-year old patient summed it up: “Reading Club has been a nice way to relax, and you never want it to end…. It is a good way to turn a bad day [positive], since it is such fun.”
The calming and relaxing effect of reading may have a scientific explanation. In the article “What is Bibliotherapy,” researcher Susan McLaine writes that, “Psychologists believe reading is good for you because the mind has to concentrate on the reading and so the focus shifts, leading to an easing of the tensions around the heart and muscles. However, this is more than a distraction; it is an active engaging of the imagination, which causes you to enter what psychologists describe as an altered state of consciousness.”
Readers turn to books for information and entertainment. In many ways, literature can also bring us comfort, guidance, and validation. Reading: it’s good for what ails you.
Tania Hajjar is the assistant director at the Montrose Library.