The correspondent of BBC Culture says that it is possible to get rid of depression not only with the help of special advice of psychologists. Fiction has an incredible potential to heal the soul.
There are no complex problems for authors of practical advice on psychology. Do you want to become more athletic, rich or happy in 2019? A lot of books will tell you how to achieve this. Do you want to improve efficiency, become more determined and creative? Dozens of works are devoted to this.
But the book does not have to be an instruction for self-improvement. Good fiction has a powerful impact on us, and a significant amount of research recently shows that reading books is very helpful in daily struggling with life difficulties. So, instead of psychotherapy, you can do book therapy.
It has been a known fact that reading helps to develop analytical thinking, and this can help to better understand the behavior and motives of other people and yourself. And especially fiction teaches social relations and compassion to us.
The 2014 study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, showed how reading Harry Potter contributed to a more positive attitude of young British people and Italians to marginalized population such as, for example, refugees. And in 2013, psychologists from the New School of Social Research found that fiction improves the ability to notice and understand the emotions of others.
A 2012 study conducted by scientists from Ohio State University showed that reading really changes the reader’s behavior. Participants in one experiment demonstrated high activity in elections after reading a book whose protagonist overcame obstacles in order to vote in the elections.
Fiction does not promise you instant changes in seven simple steps, but fascinating novels tell life stories and inspire, stories are encouraging and teach to analyze, and poetry, as experiments have shown, improves memory. And sometimes the book simply helps to distract from problems, plunging you into an amazing other world, from which you come back renewed and ready again to fight and win.
As Aristotle noted in his Poetics, poetry — by which he meant fiction in general — is more important than history. If historians study what happened and when, fiction allows us to see what could happen, thus developing our imagination, as well as our sense of morality.
To raise the mood, the plot of the book does not have to be happy or cheerful. As Jane Smiley notes in “Thirteen ways of perceiving the novel,” “many people just look at the book to feel better.”
While reading about the trials of a fictional character you can learn about problems that you have never faced before in the real life. This develops deep reflection and help in finding a solution in a situation that seemed to be impossible to be solved before. No matter what difficult situation you have, there is always a book that will remind you that you are not the first person who faced such a problem. You just need to find this book.
Book therapy is practiced by psychologists, social workers, consultants and librarians around the world, and lately the word “book therapy” (or “bibliotherapy”) has become popular and the topic has gained considerable popularity among scientists and bloggers.
The London Center for Psychological Assistance “School of Life”, for example, has its own “library therapists”, among them Ella Bertoux and Suzanne Elderkin, whose book The Novel Cure: An AZ of Literary Remedies offers a nice alternative to the consultation provided by the center (the cost of one session is $ 120).
However, the idea of treating mental illness with the help of books is not as new as you might imagine. The ancient Greeks placed special labels on the doors of libraries warning visitors that they enter the places where the healing of the soul occurs. And in the XIX century doctors and nurses of psychiatric hospitals gave different books to their patients : from the Bible and travel notes to tractates in ancient languages.
BBC Culture launched a special column devoted to booktherapy, whose authors will recommend books for all occasions: a broken heart, resentment, a sense of confusion, a dead end job. You can even write an e-mail to the email@example.com (in English) and describe what life problem bothers you. The author of the column, Hefziba Anderson, will advise you on the best book in your situation.