This section is put together by Adrian. As a company we do think it’s important to research evidential backing for the value of bibliotherapy. After a preamble, the section will provide brief summaries of, and links, to studies and articles about bibliotherapy.

Preamble

We need to be aware that within the professional mental health field there are quite fierce debates about recovery, treatment and evidence. One particularly polarised area sees the debate between those who see mental health problems as resting in biological explanations such as brain chemistry, and those who argue for a more ‘psychological approach’ which looks at the whole context of an individual’s life, stresses environmental factors and mental/emotional propensities that can be changed for the better by such learning as occurs in ‘talking therapies’. A third viewpoint, a compromise, is the biosocial perspective that sees both biology and psychological factors as interactive and important.

The arguments that occur can be very intense. For instance, those opposing an extreme ‘cure by medication’ approach argue that there is myriad evidence to ahow that such an approach is faulty. A favourite contemporary debate revolves around the increasing prescription of antidepressant medications. Opponents claim that a rigorous scientific overview of their efficacy fails to support their usefulness. Notoriously, some studies have found that for some subjects the administration of a placebo is as effective as an actual chemical.

Nevertheless, the ethos of the ‘scientific community’ which provides evidence to health providers is seen as a gold standard. Scientific studies, involving statistical analysis, ‘objectivity’, and the essential attribute of being replicable (put to the test by other researchers) are considered to offer the most powerful means of studying interventions into mental distress. Opponents say – among many other things – that you can’t quantify the incredibly compex dynamic of a human being, or lay upon an individual a neat template supposedly descriptive of all humans.

In practice, it’s probably true to say that most providers (e.g. doctors, psychiatrists) see medication and such things as talking therapies (CBT etc) as not contradictory. However, it should be pointed out that there are, among professionals and especially service users, movements which strongly critique all ‘one size fits all’ top-down approaches be they chemical or psychological.

Into this extremely brief overview, bibliotherapy – and many other ancillary therapies – must find a place. We’ve collected some studies carried out using customary methodological scientific approaches. In a scientific paper it’s customary to include near the end the limitations of the study.  It would seem to be the case that while such studies involving bibliotherapy find statistical significance to its positive efficacy, limitations include the small size of the research population and the lack of replication by other studies. Overall, it is generally pointed out that bibliotherapy is under-researched.

As someone who researched for a PhD, as a former Psychology lecturer, I’m familiar with the strengths of scientific data gathering and interpretation. I also am well aware of the limitations As a former teacher, both I and my students were subject to statistical testing and examination: the latter neither could nor desired to consider an individual’s growth as a unique, total human being. As a worker with recovering substance dependent adults – many with multiple and complex needs – our host organisation failed absurd number tests of ‘recovery’ and lost its funding, while I experienced nothing but joy at seeing the return to flourishing of very many individuals who would not fit into statistical boxes. It’s perhaps the way of the world that the value of bibliotherapy has to adopt a position of ‘strategic essentialism’ – talking the language of those in power who hold the pursestrings, yet it should alway be remembere that real human value is immeasurable.

 

Academic research and commentary

You’ll find links to research cited in the main bibliotherapy page. We’ll be adding more here.

In supporting people with mental health difficulties, much of what we do – bringing together groups for friendly, enjoyable, sociable, non-judgmental experiences – is common to many activities from horticulture to walking groups. The specific benefits of bibliotherapy and our activities are highlighted throughout the site, but it’s useful to start with research which points to the benefits of maintaining positive social relations and cognitive engagement. In this piece of research, for example, there is an indication that reading and hobbies lower the risk of developing dementia in later life.

This study concludes that teens, like adults, unconsciously use pleasure reading ….as a means of everyday life information seeking and the reasons for personal salience identified in the foregoing discussion have a strong developmental theme: in their pleasure reading, teens gain significant insights into mature relationships, personal values, cultural identity, physical safety and security, aesthetic preferences, and understanding of the physical world, all of which aid teen readers in the transition from childhood to adulthood. It should be noted that while this study is based upon any type of reading matter, we at Wee Read use literary materials because we believe that a degree of complexity in reading enhances both cognitive and emotional processing. Nevertheless, such material and the group dynamic is always pleasurable.

In a meta -analysis of Cognitive Bibliotherapy for Depression the authors conclude that
Seventeen studies with stronger research designs (pretest-posttest waiting list control group) yielded a respectable effect size of 0.77, considered the best estimate of effect size from this study. This result compares favorably with outcomes from individual psychotherapy. In light of the substantial positive effects associated with bibliotherapy for depression, the authors discuss clinically relevant questions related to the use of cognitive bibliotherapy. These include why practitioners might consider the use of this technique, which individuals can benefit from this approach, and how professionals can structure care.
In this study, statistically significant results suggest that bibliotherapy helps alleviate mild depression.

 

Here, psychiatrist Robert Carroll discusses the healing power of poetry :

My purpose in this paper is to help you experience for yourself the potential of poetry to heal by feeling its power through your own voice. Many people have an intuitive sense that voice in general and poetry in particular can be healing. We have all experienced the comfort of soothing words. Finding the words to articulate a traumatic experience can bring relief. A letter between friends who are fighting can heal a relational wound. People are frequently moved to write a poem in times of extremity. In mainstream culture there are subjects that are not talked about. They are taboo. For example, each of us is going to die, but we do not talk about dying. We are all in the dialogue of illness, death and dying, whether or not we are talking about it. Poetry gives us ways to talk about it. Multiple ways of utilizing poetry for healing, growth and transformation will be presented including the Poetry and Brain Cancer project at UCLA. Particular attention will be given to issues of Palliative care. The reader will be directed to the scientific evidence of the efficacy of utilizing expressive writing. The developing professional field of Poetry Therapy, and The National Association for Poetry Therapy will be discussed.

 

Here’s a journalistic piece with links to research which explains the value and benefits of reading fiction.’ …..using books, poetry and other written words as a form of therapy has helped humans for centuries. Fiction is a uniquely powerful way to understand others, tap into creativity and exercise your brain.’