Have you ever found answers to your life’s problems in the pages of a book? Readers have long known that books can be a safe space to explore complex personal and interpersonal problems, troubleshoot solutions, and come to a better understanding of ourselves and others.
Bibliotherapy is the practice of guided reading to help patients work through problems. While books are no substitute for a professional therapist, they can enable self-examination and provide much-needed perspective and connection.
Reading Builds Empathy and Understanding
The trick to any good story is that we relate to the protagonist, however distant their situation is from ours. In a book, we come to know characters in a personal and compassionate way.
In bibliotherapy, sometimes the character will be a reflection of our own life, and we’ll recognize our own problems in them. In a book, we’ll regard characters from a compassionate distance that lets us gain new perspective on our own problems.
Sometimes, the character will help us understand the point of view of someone else. For example, it can help parents of teens struggling with addiction to understand the situation better. Conversely, reading books wherein the protagonist has a loved one struggling with addiction can help patients understand the point of view of their friends and family.
Especially with children, bibliotherapy can enable conversations and bring up topics that are hard to talk about. They give us a chance to discuss problems in a way that is slightly removed from our personal situation, free of accusation and blame.
Reading Lets Us Know We’re Not Alone
One of the biggest dilemmas of trauma, addiction, and mental illness is that it can isolate us. We might feel like we’re the only person in the world who’s ever gone through that particular problem. This triggers feelings of isolation, shame, and depression. Through reading the stories of others, we recognize that we are not alone.
Reading Allows Us to Come to Conclusions on Our Own Terms
One of the beautiful things about reading is that books are undemanding. They aren’t dejected if you ignore them for a few days. There’s no wondering about what the book thinks about us, how much it knows, or whether it’s judging. You can pause as you read, think about things and process them in your own time. It’s a perfect situation for those who are self-motivated, but like to move at their own pace.
Reading can give you a different perspective on your own situation, see the nuances, the pitfalls, and the solutions that you might not have otherwise. It can lead to ah-ha moments and enable quiet introspection.
Finding the Right Book for You
A search on the internet, recommendations from a local librarian, or most of all, reading advice from a therapist, can guide you towards helpful books.
Here are a few suggestions for books aimed at teens, and dealing with the subject of substance abuse and addiction. An excellent list addressing other problems, like depression, ADHD, or grief can be found here.
(Note: None of these books are PG. They deal with adult themes and difficult realities.)
- That was then, this is now - S.E. Hinton
- Best Foot Forward - Joan Bauer
- The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance - Catherine Ryan Hyde
- Crank - Ellen Hopkins
Open up a book and find strength, courage, hope, and new coping techniques on your journey to recovery.