Bibliotherapy: Using Reading And Writing To Mend Broken Lives


The healing effect of books has been recognized by academicians and researchers and has undergone a resurgence, leading to the proliferation of the art of bibliotherapy on a global level. According to a recent article published on The Conversation website, for almost 100 years reading and writing have helped veterans in building positive relationships, gaining confidence and facing challenges after post-service lives.

There is mounting clinical evidence that reading can help in overcoming loneliness, has a beneficial impact on the overall wellbeing of an individual and can also help in fighting against social exclusion. Current research highlights that literacy caregiving during wartime acted as a learning catalyst for veterans who were facing physical and mental problems and difficulties.

The word bibliotherapy was coined in the year 1914 by American author and Minister Samuel McChord Crothers. Bibliotherapy is defined as the utilization of books as therapy in the treatment of psychological or mental disorder. This key conception, along with other ideas related to the healing power of books emerged in the crucial times of World War I, during which nurses, doctors and volunteers emphasized on the mental as well as physical well-being of the soldiers.

Literary caregiving was an integral part of the wartime in olden days and a network of recreational huts and lending libraries operated to facilitate the soldiers, after the World War 1. Mary Gaskell, pioneer of “literary caregiving” administered a library for soldiers during these pressing days in the mansion offered by her close friend Lady Battersea. This library shelved donated books and was affiliated to the Red Cross, functioning internationally with depots in countries including Malta, Egypt and Salonika. Moreover, according to Beatrice Harraden, novelist and member of Women’s Social and Political Union and Elizabeth Robins, the library played an integral role in the treatment of 26,000 wounded individuals between 1915 and 1918.

The present-day veterans are also provided with opportunities for reading and writing through planned interventions and participatory exercises by charity organizations such as Combat Stress UK (CSUK) and Veterans’ Outreach Services. CSUK organise reading and writing exercise that are designed to detach veterans from traumatic stories and incidents, helping them to deal with their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experiences.

Janice Lobban, CSUK director of Therapy said collaborative work … “gave combat stress veterans the valuable opportunity of developing creative writing skills. Typically, the clinical presentation of veterans causes them to avoid unfamiliar situations and the loss of self-confidence can affect the ability to develop creative potential. Workshops within the safety of our Surrey treatment centre enabled veterans to have the confidence to experiment with new ideas.”

Veterans’ Outreach Support organises workshops to explore the role of writing in the training of veterans and how they can become “peer-mentors” of other veterans who wish to access VOS services. Results of these exercises by the VOS highlighted a positive response of the veterans, particularly towards imaginative writing prospects. Moreover, these exercises assisted them in writing fluently about their lives and provided them a liberating experience.

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