[Home] [About Us] [What's New] [Site Map] [Contact Us] [Search]
Spirituality Header

On Bibliotherapy
by Joseph Gold

HOW CAN READING help people overcome the pain of various losses and disappointments to the point where they can resume constructing their life-narratives? In Read For Your Life I suggested several novels that could help in the healing process of divorce and loss. Jane’s House by Robert K. Smith, Ordinary People and Second Heaven by Judith Guest, various stories by Katherine Anne Porter and Doris Lessing, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong and Heartburn by Nora Ephron, to name but a few. I based this list on clinical work and cases where patients had found such reading helpful. Today, however, I would be much more eclectic and inclusive, for I have learned that relevance to their own situations is found in all kinds of stories by patients pull-out quotationseeking ways to understand what has happened to them. Nor would I confine my reading suggestions to fictions. When a life-narrative is broken patients may find it very difficult to enter a narrative. This is often explained as a problem with concentration. In fact it is entirely possible that people do best with fiction when their own life narrative is proceeding well. It is as though they are grounded in a secure place from which they can venture into other “not I” narratives, safe in the knowledge that at any moment they can return to knowing who they are and what they are doing. When this path is lost it may be necessary to reorganize and redirect the life journey by bringing into mind new information not necessary before the loss. For instance I have found that reading about grief processes as described by Therese Rando is very helpful to patients feeling lost and confused by the emotions and circumstances of grief.

(excerpted from The Stories Species: Our Life-Literature Connection by Joseph Gold. Markham: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2002. p. 273-4)

Bibliotherapy is really reading to assist in the process of coping with life. This may be reading to gain a better understanding of problems encountered in relationships, or a way of dealing with the pain of loss, disappointment or confusion. It has been traditional to regard bibliotherapy as part of a therapeutic treatment process requiring the reader to "identify" with a character in a fictional text. Novels and short stories have been the favourite models, but more recently poems and self-help books have been added to the list.

My recent work has led me to believe that identification with a character, situation or problem is insufficient to produce the second order change that is required for effective therapy. I think a two part process of decoding text is necessary involving both identification and recognition. Recognition implies a level of awareness that the reader, by joining a character or situation, has also been able by some shift of perspective to look "back" at himself so to speak and "see" more of the self and its behaviour requiring modification than was possible before the reading. The Story Species provides the theoretical framework for the power of reading and shows the essential role of Literature in the formation of identity, community and culture.


blue rule
Do you have a story about how the power of reading has helped you through difficult times? Tell it on our messageboard or respond directly to the author here.

pull-out quotation

Watershed Logo Top Back to Spirituality