Bibliotherapy: How Books Can Treat Anxiety, Depression

Can Reading Cure Depression?

Any avid reader will attest to the emotional high that occurs when reading a book that beautifully describes their exact predicament. This could explain the swaths of high school students singing Holden Caulfield's praises, only to shyly retract their admiration just a few years later.

Whether you're an adolescent averse to adulthood, a nerdy hopeless romantic with the worst of luck or a woman caught in a stifling marriage, there is a book out there that can give your life perspective.

This is the idea behind Bibliotherapy, a supposed cure for depression and anxiety being implemented by author Alain De Botton at his London company, The School of Life. De Botton is the author of "How Proust Can Change Your Life," a book that blends literary fiction and self-help. He says academics "could never forgive [him]" for making Proust accesible, but personally believes books are more than works of art to be admired.

"The idea that culture is literally a resource by which to live is oddly neglected," de Botton says in a video promoting his services. He adds that culture seems to be more like an activity people "like to visit on a Sunday."

Whether or not a book can single-handedly tackle a person's depression is difficult to determine, but positive thinking has been proven to help. According to a Psychology Today article titled "Depression Doing the Thinking," "One of the most powerful actions you can take in combating depression is to understand how critical the quality of your thinking is to maintaining and even intensifying your depression—and that the quickest way to change how you feel is to change how you think." The article goes on to explain how negative thoughts can enter one's mind subconsciously, and therefore seem more raw or true to the depression sufferer than their own moods and feelings.

If a shift in thoughts can aid in alleviating depression, then why shouldn't books be a part of that process? The School of Life employs bookstore owners, Ph.D candidates and other lit lovers, who make reading recommendations based on a consultation in which patients discuss their lives, their concerns and their reading histories.

Of course, the concept of reading to cure certain mental ailments is nothing new. Libraries were described as "healing places for the soul" in ancient Greece, and WWII soldiers read while recuperating. Still, The School of Life may be the first organization to charge a fee (if a small one) for literary prescriptions.

The company's blog features user-submitted questions and responses from Bibliotherapists. A recent post involves an art student struggling with his or her inability to create original work. Bibliotherapist Ella Burthound prescribes "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens, "Jack Maggs" by Peter Carey and "The Conference of the Birds" by Farid ud-Din Attar.

Check out The School of Life's website for other suggestions, and let us know which books have helped you through tough times in the comments!

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