Bibliotherapy The Power of Words

What is bibliotherapy?

The use of books for therapeutic purposes is known as ‘bibliotherapy’. Self-help books have been used in this way for many years and are now being recommended as a means of providing psychological therapy for people experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties. The effectiveness of bibliotherapy has been well established in clinical trials. This has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) UK as a useful start in treating mild and moderate depression, anxiety and panic and some other mental health problems.

Emotional problems are very common

Many people, perhaps even the majority, develop emotional or psychological problems at some stage during their life.  At any one time for example, about 10% of adults are feeling somewhat depressed.  Others feel anxious about leaving the house, or about meeting people, or have worries that just seem to go on and on.  Some experience panic attacks that can be very frightening and unpredictable.  Some people are highly stressed by work or family life, while others are haunted by abuse that happened in childhood.  And many people just don’t feel good about themselves, their self-esteem is low, they lack confidence and feel useless and unlovable.

Bibliotherapy in Ireland

In March 2007, the first bibliotherapy scheme in Ireland was piloted, led by Elaine Martin, HSE Senior Psychologist in collaboration with Dublin City Public Libraries. The objective of the scheme was to give GPs, mental health professionals and patients choice in the treatment approach to some mild and moderate mental health difficulties. The scheme provided GPs and other professionals with a list of high quality self-help books. Practitioners in turn brought these books to the attention of their patients and clients who were likely to benefit from their use. The books were stocked by local libraries and therefore readily accessible. The appetite for a self-help approach was great with over 2500 books issued from six inner city libraries in the first year. Since that time similar local initiatives have sprung up throughout the country e.g. ‘Your Good Self’ in Cork, ‘Mind Yourself’ in Wexford and Meath Healthy Reading Scheme. In February 2009 the Library Council of Ireland, the H.S.E. and the Irish College of General Practitioners introduced  “The Power of Words” scheme – a national list of 30 books to support and aid persons to gain insight into and treat their emotional and psychological problems.

The New Power of Words Book Selection

Many thousands of self-help books exist and while the best of these are highly effective, others are not so useful. In preparation for the 2013 scheme hundreds of the best evidence-based titles were read and reviewed by willing psychologists and General Practitioners working in Ireland. Based on their recommendations a long list of 97 books and a short list of 42 books have been compiled by Elaine Martin and Sara Kelly (HSE Primary Care Psychology, Dublin North City). Most of the books chosen are written by leading psychologists with clinical expertise and many present self-help versions of established treatment programmes.

Over the past year the book list has been revised and updated, reflecting and incorporating matters of concern to public health, developments in the treatment of various difficulties and with thought to the support needs of carers too. One hundred-word summary reviews are available on all 97 titles. The list includes books for adults on the common psychological problems that people experience including depression, anxiety, panic, eating difficulties, stress and low self-esteem. The list includes books for children and families on topics such as parenting, worries, bullying, bereavement, separation and eating issues.

Where can the books be found?

The lists have been circulated to all Public Libraries. Since 2007 the public libraries have been very supportive and enthusiastic about bibliotherapy schemes, stocking books, arranging inter-library loans and many have undertaken extra training so that staff can help and support users of bibliotherapy. Most books are also available for purchase in good bookshops (including electronic editions).

Read the booklist here

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