Bibliotherapy: How Literature can Support Self-Discovery, Self-Development, & Self-Healing

Books and other forms of literature carry the powerful potential to enhance our mental well-being and support us on journey through life. Reading turns the attention inward, while research suggests that our brains use the same networks when reading about an experience as when we experience a situation ourselves. Dedicating attention and focus to exploring literature of topics relevant to real-life scenarios can help broaden understanding and knowledge, while consistent readers have been shown to have a reduction in symptoms of stress and increased empathetic responses.

The term bibliotherapy can be understood as the use of reading materials to prompt inspiration towards self-development, problem solving, support cognitive growth, help connect and process emotional experiences, and overall aid to improve psychological well-being.

The practice of ‘prescribing literature’ has been a source of self-healing since the middle ages, as it helps people to navigate self-discovery as well as with an array of mental health issues. Reading as a healing tool has the potential to provide individuals the language to help make sense of experiences, thoughts and emotions.

Curious on how to get started?

  1. Find time to read. If right before bed doesn’t work for you (if you’re anything like me, falling asleep by the third sentence isn’t uncommon!), schedule a time that is realistic, or squeeze in some pages where you can, such as while you wait for the bus or eat your lunch.
  2. Find a reading nook. Somewhere cozy and calming, away from distractions. Leaving your phone in another room or on silent is helpful.
  3. Don’t give up if the read doesn’t immediately get you hooked. Give the read some time to get under your skin, you might be surprised!
  4. Find the ‘book accessory’ that works for you. Wish you could read while you’re walking or being active? Consider some headphones and an audiobook. Think you might be better equipped if you were hands free? Consider a stand that holds your book for you. Find it too dark to read in bed? Consider a night torch that hooks on to your book.

Below is a list of books that have accompanied me on my personal journey. Each of the following titles have provided me with some form of insight, understanding, or ‘aha’ moments that I am pleased to recommend! While deciding your next title, choose what speaks to you. We are all a result of our unique experiences; therefore, everyone’s journey will lead down different roads.

Psychological Picks

  • Psycho Cybernetics (Dr. Maxwell Maltz). A psychological masterpiece in understanding the self and self-image.
    How to Do the Work (Dr. Nicole LePera). Prompts insight to recognizing your patterns, healing from your past, and creating yourself.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection (Brené Brown). Understanding shame and vulnerability, overcoming perfection to live authentically.
  • Good Morning, I Love You (Dr. Shauna Shapiro). The journey to understanding mindfulness, with intention, attention & attitude. Focusing on seeing clearly, responding effectively, approaching with kindness and curiosity.
  • What Happened to You? (Dr. Perry & Oprah). Exploratory in the realm of trauma and behaviour, introducing the ground-breaking shift from asking “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”
  • The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman). Revolutionary in understanding the various needs in relationships.
  • The Power of the Subconscious Mind (Joseph Murphy). Understanding subconscious obstacles while introducing mind-focusing techniques.
  • Lying (Sam Harris). A great pocketbook on the reasons and ways to live truthfully
  • What a Time to Be Alone (Chidera Eggerue). A refreshing short read that helps to navigate perception of life and finding security in your solitude.
  • Conversation Skills: Master People Skills Through Emotional Intelligence, Conversation & Body Language (Kate Miles). Words are powerful, change your words and change your life, understanding the causes affecting your people skills.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie). A classic on how to make people feel good in your presence.

Philosophical Picks

  • The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle). Transformative understanding about moments, living in the now.
  • The Courage to be Disliked (Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga). Unlocking the power within you to become your truest and most authentic self, philosophical and thought-provoking.
  • As a Man Thinketh (James Allen). Although this classic, written in 1904, could benefit from an ‘inclusivity makeover’, it prompted understanding of thoughts and creativity of life.
  • Meditations (Marcus Aurelius). Written by the Roman Emperor without intention of ever publishing, these raw and mystical thoughts offer guidance on self-improvement (a challenging read, best listened to with an open mind).

Reflecting on Life

  • The Road Less Travelled (Dr. Scott Peck). Inspiring read, outlining how to take chances and solve personal problems.
  • The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz). A practical guide to personal freedom, focusing on the pillars of life.
  • The Mastery of Love (Don Miguel Ruiz). Great perception on awareness of the soul, finding the dramas of human life humorous in comparison to the love that we are.
  • The Power (Rhonda Byrne). The concept of Love, what it is, and its immense impact on life.
  • Hero (Rhonda Byrne). How to navigate control of your own life, be your own hero.
  • The Greatest Secret (Rhonda Byrne). Explores the understanding of purpose and life, focusing on ‘awareness’.
  • The Alchemist (Paul Coelho). A fictional story following the search of one’s personal legend. It is the possibility of a dream come true that makes life interesting.
  • The Universe Has Your Back (Gabrielle Bernstein). Trusting one’s connection with the universe, personal power lies in the capacity to spread love. Moments can be miracles if you perceive it that way.
  • Many Lives, Many Masters (Dr. Brian Weiss). If you’re willing to go on a journey and remain open minded, this read follows the healing journey of a girl through the possibility of having lived past lives.

Motivational Picks

  • The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You (Lydia Fenet). How to embrace and channel your own power in any room.
  • You are a Badass (Jen Sincero). Going from wanting to change your life to deciding to change your life, creating the life you desire, the importance of making the decision.
  • Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert). Revolutionary in the concept of ideas and creativity.
  • The Game of Negotiating: Caring but not that much (Herb Cohen). Concept of investing emotions, perception on attachment of decisions.
  • Humour, Seriously (Jennifer Aaker). How to use humour and levity to transform business and lives.
  • Key Person of Influence (Daniel Priestly and Mike Reid). Helpful in identifying ones’ niche and the steps to developing professional value.

Food for thought: What book has significantly changed your life? What titles are in your book-list prescription?

As a key takeaway, leveraging carefully selected literary works that speak to you and your needs can help you to navigate your own healing journey. You may even find yourself stumble across a book that speaks to you, coincidentally related to your current situation or thoughts. You could take this as a sign, and discover what lessons and learnings lay ahead!