What is bibliotherapy?

Books, stories, and other forms of literature can help us build greater empathy, insight, and self-compassion. When we explore stories that relate to our own experiences in some way, it becomes easier for us to re-imagine our own. If you think this type of therapy might be right for you, or someone close to you, keep reading to learn more about how it works and how it can help.

When we are coping with grief or anxiety for example, it can be challenging to make sense of our thoughts and feelings, especially if we don’t have any previous experience to compare it to. The Bibliotherapy component of the Narrative Arts Therapy programme is a way to help bridge this gap because it introduces us to the wide range of human behaviours and story plots, where we inevitably recognise ourselves. 

An all-time favourite biographical story of mine is the holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl’s. I love how his logo therapy, created almost a century ago, has seeded many different forms of therapy and continues to resonate with narrative arts therapy.

Here are the bones of his story: 

Victor Frankl was a philosopher and psychiatrist who survived the German Nazi war camps after the second world war, where he lost all his family and friends to the gas chambers. His famous book, The meaning of life (1945) is a reflection on what kept him going in the Nazi camps. This is one of his most enduring quotations:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl could not change the situation in the camps. Instead, he discovered how his emotional survival depended on pausing in the space between stimulus and response. 

In this pause, this space, he found a sense of spiritual and intellectual freedom that helped him to transcend the moment ad survive psychologically. We are all capable of pausing in Victor Frankl’s “space”, so that we may re-imagine our response to the problem at hand.

Can you think of an instance in your life where you can do with pausing between stimulus and response? 

Practicing the “pause” can be a profound form of witnessing and self-intelligence. It resonates with one of narrative therapy’s key pillars: the problem is the problem. The person is not the problem.

When we create a space between the problem story and ourselves, we can look at it from a bird’s eye view. This idea of a distance between stimulus and response is extremely valuable in therapy.  

When we are dealing with conditions such as anxiety, or coping with grief, it can often be challenging to make sense of what is happening in our minds and bodies, especially if we don’t have any previous experience to compare it to. Bibliotherapy is a way to help bridge this gap by connecting us with other people's similar stories.

I rely on a wide range of sources in my practice, ranging from short parables to traditional narratives, novels, short stories and poetry, or extracts from inspiring authors. I offer these resources to my students and clients as part of our larger narrative arts therapy programme, to help them find their way to re-imagining their narratives.

When we create a space between the problem in our story and ourselves, we become a witness to our story. Different truths emerge in this space.

If you want to explore this idea further, do make use of my complementary WhatsApp appointment.

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