Bibliotherapy Can Work

The helpfulness of literature, art, and walking

Posted Jun 25, 2019

The writer Somerset Maugham said, “There is nothing but art and love.”

Lately, at social events and in conversations with friends, I have heard a few dismissive quips about therapy. One person, who experienced a severe trauma, didn’t want to engage with the psychological “mumbo jumbo.” He commented that we live in a scam culture and it is hard to figure out who truly has expertise. A friend, who experienced a loss of a partner said, “No thanks,” to the opportunity to talk it out and said he would just get back into his morning walks.

I was talking to a colleague who shared that a client came to her because he had slipped into a nameless, debilitating depression and was told by a therapist to make collages.

This kind of assigned task is not all that useful in a crisis and might be experienced as an un-empathic intervention. If collaging has been part of you for a while, a practice, rather than assigned in a wrenching moment, it might be effective.

You can fall back on your creative habit as a routine comfort or distraction. Gardening. Knitting. Organizing. One thinks of the title The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker. Transcendence via routine.

Art can be uplifting whether you are an eminent or everyday creator or spectator. Beauty and wisdom can offer moments of happiness or at least the contentment that comes from reflection.

by Chloe Barron
Source: by Chloe Barron

While a highly trained and agile therapist can help you identify nameless angst, sometimes a book, poem, composition, or film holds insights that you just can’t find anywhere else.

Bibliotherapy works for some people. They feel less alone and more understood when they see their story on the page. Plus, those who are quite private may want to explore their inner life on their own. I have known several people who “walk” out their problems rather than entering an intimate dialogue with another. 

There is data on nature enhancing mental health and on walking as well as other forms of exercise for managing depression.