# 255: Reading Helps

Hynes, Arleen McCarty (2019). Bibliotherapy: The Interactive Process. A Handbook.

Story behind the Passage

Today, someone shared with me that the reading circles we did in the past weeks actually helped her overcome a personal problem. And I mean — a serious personal problem that had to be treated professionally. Then she participated in the circles and it helped — the problem is gone. Can you believe this? I mean, I have always believed in the power of books — writing and reading them — but people start laughing if you tell them: “Hey, why don’t you send your managers to a reading retreat?”

Guess what, it works!

I have received more feedback already and it all speaks to the fact that reading helps. The problem is just that people probably do not want to hear about the word “therapy.” If it has that effect, though, I am willing to call it anything. I want people to be able to function and think clearly. Well, I cannot “want” them to do so. They have to want it in the first place and I might be able to contribute. If reading books helps, that is wonderful. After all, too many people still kill themselves and nobody knows if they regretted it later! But I am certain, some of these fatal cases could be prevented.

Well, am I saying I am a therapist now? Am I saying I work with suicidal people in reading circles?

Certainly not!

The thing is, we could all use some therapy but there is still a big stigma about this — at least in many societies, I guess. Especially managers and leaders in all kinds of spheres probably have problems with admitting that they need help. How could I convince them to join reading circles? The obvious answer is, I need to try. The existing evidence with other people already tells me that there are good reasond to believe that reading might be a silver bullet. Still, if nobody does it — where is the point?

I am not going to wonder about this now, actually. I want to focus on something essential about the method itself. The only reason why I even know about reading as a method is because many years ago, I met someone at a U.S. university who told me about it. I talked to him because I was interested in positive psychology. And as you see in the passage, bibliotherapy is all about positive psychology. Maybe the simplicity of the method stands in contrast to the complexity that most people usually associate with mental problems. This exactlys makes the method so powerful, I think. “Every child can read,” so the proverb goes. Well, we know that this is not true, obviously. Many people cannot read (well) for many different reasons. Still, most people have basic reading skills and are thus suitable for participation.

My Learnings

“Bibliotherapy uses literature to bring about a therapeutic interaction between the participant and the facilitator.” I am actually citing this sentence because I think it is dead wrong. Yes, bibliotherapy is about interaction and there needs to be a facilitator. But the focus is on the participant and THE BOOK — for Pete’s sake. The actual reading makes all the difference. You might want to add the characters of the book, to be even more precise. But I really think the facilitator is a minor character. That person is only there to make sure that the people read. If you are depressed or just not at your maximum capacity, commitment to fixed time slots helps — no matter what you read and with whom.

“The results of effective bibliotherapy are improved self-esteem and assimilation of appropriate psychological or social values into the participant’s character and behavior.” I totally agree with all these benefits but there is one aspect missing, at least from my perspective: The fact that you also build up knowledge. I think it is the knowledge that also gives you a sense of power and thus has an empowering function. I also think that the psychological problems of many people stem from the fact that they suffer from boreout at work. And reading makes your life become vivid again. I think, this should not be forgotten. Knowing that life can be exciting simply because you are learning new things is something so valuable that people forget about the pleasure of learning.

“As we shall see… the emphasis in interactive bibliotherapy is directed more to the encouragement and reinforcement of strengths than to the diagnosis of problem areas.” This is the coaching-based approach I mentioned before which essentially reflects positive psychology. And that is all it takes to make people happy and to help them grow. There is nothing else needed. I am just constantly puzzled by the fact that most of us do not adhere to this simple finding (including myself). It does not take any therapists or clients if we all follow this rule of looking at our strengths — everything else becomes secondary. This simply diversion is the key of healing. It is that easy. Shift your perspective away from something and turn it to something else. It does not matter how “true” this or that is.

You read your own truth out of your own story.

Reflection Questions

1) Can you imagine that reading has therapeutical value? Which books have this effect on you?

2) Do you think that books can replace a boring reality?

3) How would your life change if you only focused on your strengths?

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