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The Power of Words

Updated: Apr 11

We explore the practice of bibliotherapy


The practice of bibliotherapy can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks who believed that reading had healing qualities for the soul. The term “bibliotherapy” was coined in the 20th century and this word comes from the ancient Greek for book and healing.

Bibliotherapy is fundamentally the use of reading as a therapeutic process and it has been used across the decades in various different formats. Sigmund Freud is known to have used literature in his psychoanalysis sessions, soldiers returning home from the First World War were prescribed reading materials and librarians in America were given training on what books to recommend to war veterans. You can also find anecdotes about Jane Austen’s novels being used in a bibliotherapeutic format with British soldiers.


Bibliotherapy has evolved over the years and you will find it being used in a wide variety of settings alongside formal therapeutic practices. It is often applied to people living with mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, people living with substance addiction, people experiencing emotional distress from trauma or grief, and also in prison settings or dementia care settings. It can be used in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis, and it is something that has to be tailored to the individual and their current situation.


Benefits of BibliotherapyReading can be a form of escapism, it can transport you to another world where you can forget the difficulties you are facing, but it can also help you face challenging times in your life. Reading a book that you can relate your circumstances or feelings to can help you make sense of what is happening in your own life, whether this is grief, career changes, parenting, living with mental health problems, there will be a relatable book out there.


There has been little research done into the efficacy of bibliotherapy, with most writings on the subject being hypotheses and anecdotal stories. However, there is no denying that different forms of reading therapy have been utilised across the world and across centuries.


Researchers are taking more interest in the impact of reading on our minds and emotional wellbeing, with some studies showing positive effects of bibliotherapy on people living with certain mental illnesses, substance abuse, and among older people living with depression.


A 2011 study that analysed fMRI brain scans showed that the same brain networks come into action when we read about an experience and when we actually experience it in real life. This could suggest that reading can help build resilience and help people more easily process emotions in certain situations.

Applying bibliotherapy

Guiding the patients you are working with towards positive reading material can go hand in hand with applying occupational therapy. Occupational therapists are well-equipped to recognise patients who could benefit from positive, affirming or uplifting reading material, and even though you may not be the most knowledgeable literary agent out there, you will be able to signpost the people you work with to services that can help.


Book Therapy is an online service set up by Bijal Shah. Bijal is a bibliotherapist, an author, a book curator, freelance journalist, counsellor and avid reader. She recognises the power of words and the impact that books can have on our lives, helping us through family conflicts, bereavement, life changes, childhood anxiety, teenage years, and complicated relationships. Bijal offers bibliotherapy sessions for individuals and couples, helping to guide people towards books that will help them understand feelings and circumstances that they are living with.


Bijal also offers a Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health online course, which is a comprehensive course into the practice of bibliotherapy, it is designed in particular for mental health professionals and those working in a therapeutic setting. The course helps identify how to use bibliotherapy with adults and children, how to apply bibliotherapy in a group or individual setting, and includes core reading recommendations for different mental health and wellbeing issues.


The therapeutic qualities of reading can also be applied to yourself for personal development and growth as an occupational therapist. A journey of reading and self-knowledge can only benefit your career as an occupational therapist. Exploring different genres, expanding your knowledge, and increasing empathy and understanding through books can be an enlightening experience.


Reading is good for the soul and words are a powerful tool, books can equip you for much more than you may have once anticipated.


For more information visit or watch the video below to find out more.


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