Have you heard of bibliotherapy?

It’s thought to be the art of healing through books and reading (and more recently, incorporates online reading material, too). And though it might seem like just a fancy word for a trip down the self-help aisle of the bookshop, it’s actually been around for quite a while – since at least the 1930s – and was apparently used following WWII to help soldiers recuperate.

More recently, bibliotherapy has often been claimed and redefined by the briefer and more directive therapies, including CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), and has had things like ‘homework exercises’ woven through it. Or it’s seen as something you can sort of ‘apply’ to children. But its original intent was a bit more complex than that.

For bibliotherapy also incorporates your relationship to the content of what you’re reading – be it poetry, philosophy, whatever gets you going. So it’s not just about the ‘7 steps to happiness’ stuff.

And it also connects you in relationship to the other people you may read about, or even to the authors themselves and the way they capture ideas and aspects of life in literature. So it can lift you out of isolation. It invites you to be enriched and joined to others by the whole dynamic experience.

And maybe there’s yet another way of looking at it…

For what if you were the book?

What if you could review parts of your life almost like chapters?*

Maybe just take a moment and see what it’s like to turn to the pages you’re currently on. What might you find there?

What would you call this particular chapter – what is its title?

And what have some of the recent themes been?

Have any of these themes come-up in previous chapters?
Are there any that seem to recur throughout the book of your life?
What do you make of that?

How might the chapter you’re currently in differ from the one(s) before it?

And what are your hopes and intentions for your next chapter?
What do you imagine you might call that one?

Which areas might you like to explore in it?
What could help you to do that? To fulfill your vision for your next chapter.
Who or what might the potential challenges be?
If your book was illustrated, which images could reflect some of this?

How close do you think you might be to embarking on this next chapter?
Which values or meanings or relationships might help you begin it?

And how does it feel to think about all of this stuff?

To more consciously be in the role of an author with your unfolding life?

(Or perhaps even as a ‘re-author’, as Michael White, the founder of narrative therapy might have put it).

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and chapter titles here. And perhaps, together, we can create another layer to this bibliotherapy business – a kind of “living library” of the stories of our lives…


*This concept and the related queries were inspired by a narrative therapy workshop exercise created by Adrian van den Bok.

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.