Although I’ve been an avid reader all my life, I’d honestly never heard the term “bibliotherapy” until recently. Apparently, I’ve been out of the loop.

The concept of reading books as therapy dates to the ancient Greeks who considered libraries sacred. Above the entrance to the library in Thebes were inscribed the words, “A healing place for the soul.”

Through the ages, medical as well as psychiatric physicians have prescribed the reading of books to patients to help them understand their conditions, combat depression or face a life transition.

 
 

Reading as a Casual Pastime

But what about reading as a casual pastime? I’ve researched the psychology of this activity and experienced a few enlightening revelations.

In the words of the French author Marcel Proust, “Reading is for us the instigator whose magic keys open deep within us the door to those dwelling places into which we would have been unable to penetrate.”

So, how can picking up a book, or your digital reading device, help improve the quality of your life? Well, surprise! If you are reading this blog, or one of the many others on the Sixty and Me website, you have already begun the journey.

In exploring the articles, podcasts and blogs contributed by this community of like-minded women, we improve our day.

We learn something, we are entertained, we laugh, we empathize with each other’s sadness. But one thing is for certain: we leave the site with a renewed and enriched view of our own lives. And with a smile.

Of course, with the millions of books out there in hundreds, if not thousands of genres on virtually every conceivable subject, the choices are plentiful. Here are some basic avenues you may consider.

Self-Help Books

Are you dealing with a challenge in your life? Grieving a lost loved one? Facing “empty nest syndrome”? Perhaps you are approaching a transition in your life, like entering retirement, and are unsure as to what on earth you’re going to do with all that time on your hands.

Are you socially inept? Has that been keeping you from expanding your circle of friends? These issues are discussed in self-help books.

Personal confidence issues are not new to me, especially when approaching a new activity or skill. Recently, I decided to take up horseback riding again after a multi-year hiatus, but fear of failure and injury was holding me hostage.

I came across a book called The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris. Reading this book was so uplifting, so inspiring to me, that I found myself able to tackle that personal challenge with gusto.

I recommended the book to a dear friend of mine, who suffers from a similar lack of confidence, though in different areas of her life. She said she literally could not put it down, and it caused her to envision an entire shift in her self-image.

If you are dealing with a stumbling block in your life, there is a book out there that might open new pathways in your brain and help you find the right answer for you.

Educational Books

Perhaps you have spent your entire life playing the same roles: at work, with your family, in your relationships, in your recreational activities. The one thing I discovered with delight at the age of 54 was that you are never too old to learn something new.

After spending my entire life working in the medical field, utilizing the scientific, logical side of my brain, I realized that the banging I was hearing was my creative side beating on the door, begging to be turned free. I wanted to write.

A plethora of books out there exist to help you learn the techniques for whatever kind of writing you want to do. I wanted to pen my memoir, but also had dozens of fictional tales running around in my head.

So, I began my own exploration of the world of writing (a form of therapy in its own right). I read books on every aspect of the writing craft I could find. Two years later, I’d not only written both a memoir and a novel, but had secured publication contracts on both of those books.

Contrary to the old cliché, you can teach a mature, experienced dog new tricks. This concept applies to every subject, every sport, every hobby. If you have a desire to learn about it, there’s at least a dozen books out there to help you learn the basics and get you started on a fresh, new pathway in your life.

Virtual Reality Books

No, I’m not talking about the computer-created kind. You don’t need any fancy technological gadgets or expensive software. All you need is a book. Every novel, whether it be literary or mass-market fiction, holds a potential, virtual journey.

In the 90s, with the discovery of “mirror neurons,” scientists determined (under CT scan) that the area of the human brain that reacts to an actual experience also lights up when a person either watches someone else experiencing the event – or if they read about it.

Emotions add the spice to an otherwise mundane existence. When you read a novel, by empathizing with the characters, you feel their emotions.

By the end of a particularly well-developed story, you feel a sense of loss at “losing” your new friends. This explains why series are so popular.

Even after completing one of my own novels, I find myself thinking at times, “Gee, I wonder what Marco and Kate are up to this weekend?” As if they are real people, even though these characters only exist in my mind.

Travel Books

Always wanted to travel abroad? Choose a novel set in the place where you want to visit. I love reading novels set in Scotland. I can take that virtual trip without ever leaving the comfort of my reading chair.

What is the best part about the virtual reality journey provided by a novel?

There are no limitations. Even time travel is possible. Dive into the past with a historical tale, or jet yourself into the future with a sci-fi. The possibilities are endless.

Bibliotherapy is an inexpensive – even free – way to enrich your life. I’ve always treasured libraries as places for endless possibilities and adventure. Borrowing books is free. The invention of the eBook has made purchasing books easier than ever and less expensive.

What a freedom we have in today’s world!

You are no longer limited by the hours of your local bookstore or library. With the Internet and eBooks, you can choose a book at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning, in the middle of a snowstorm, if it so moves you. A couple of clicks and a few dollars later, you can begin the next chapter of your life-enriching journey – without delay.

My prescription for improving your life? Self-medicate with bibliotherapy.

Have you read a particularly good book lately? How did it enhance your life? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s have a conversation about your most recent great read.

Frances BrownFrances Brown is an author, speaker and writing coach. She is passionate about inspiring others to pursue their creative dreams. Frances also publishes fiction under her pseudonym, Claire Gem. Her mission is to broaden the horizons of women who have accomplished much but yearn to learn and grow even more.

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