Books can make us better...the role of bibliotherapy in prevention

Featured article - 20 June 2016
By Jennifer Collieson, SCIE's Senior Information Specialist and Prevention Lead

Head-shot of the author, Jennifer Collieson, SCIE's Senior Information Specialist and Prevention Lead

As a former librarian I don’t need any convincing as to the importance of public libraries. Indeed, in my current role as a senior information specialist at SCIE, I often draw upon my library knowledge and skills in developing new digital resources for social care practitioners, service users and carers. Libraries provide free and equal access to a welcoming community space and a wealth of resources to support literacy, lifelong learning and a love of reading. But, as many of us know, libraries and their collections also offer solace and comfort, a safe, non-judgemental space to explore personal issues either in private or in a group with the support of others. Bibliotherapy or reading therapy is not a new idea – it dates back to Ancient Greece where faith in the transformative power of literature was promoted through the library at Thebes as 'a healing place for the soul.'

I was reminded of this last week when I was invited to the Reading Agency’s launch of their latest national reading scheme focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of young people. This scheme builds on the success of two earlier initiatives promoting support for common mental health conditions and dementia. The new Reading Well Shelf Help collection has been co-produced by a panel of young people together with health experts, and aims to help build emotional resilience through a selection of 35 titles – including self-help guides, fiction and memoir. Topics covered include those of concern to many young people including stress, self-esteem, bullying, anxiety and body image. Since 2013 the Reading Agency’s Books on Prescription (BOP) programme has reached almost half a million people and is available in 97% of library authorities. Funded by the Arts Council it forms a key part of the Public Library Universal Health Offer which aims to use the reach of the public library network to enhance health and wellbeing.

Since 2013 the Reading Agency’s Books on Prescription (BOP) programme has reached almost half a million people and is available in 97% of library authorities. Funded by the Arts Council it forms a key part of the Public Library Universal Health Offer which aims to use the reach of the public library network to enhance health and wellbeing. An initial evaluation published last year found that 90% of people who borrowed a book from the adult mental health list found it helpful and that it increased confidence in managing their symptoms. The programme contributes to the growing evidence base for the social value of arts and culture in promoting wellbeing and is grounded in an asset-based approach working with individuals’ strengths and abilities.

Libraries have a history of engaging with wider services and SCIE’s Prevention resource features a service example from Warwickshire where a local books on prescription scheme initiated by Adult Social Care was set up in 2009, before the national Reading Well scheme was developed. In Kirklees the local authority have offered their bibliotherapy “Well into Words” scheme through their libraries and information centres since 2000. Groups using fiction and poetry to promote mental wellbeing and reduce social isolation and loneliness are not only hosted regularly within local libraries but also in other settings such as adult psychiatric wards, addiction treatment centres, dementia cafes and care homes. As part of the ongoing Arts Council funded cultural commissioning programme libraries are working in partnership with museums, arts organisations, charities and public sector commissioners to develop arts-based social prescribing schemes which meet the specific needs of local populations.

At a time when public libraries are re-purposing their role in the context of public sector austerity and library closures, bibliotherapy and related services are an excellent example of the contribution libraries make to improving the wellbeing of their local communities.

Media Contact

Steve Palmer, Press and Public Affairs Manager
Tel: 020 7766 7419 | Mob: 07739 458 192 | Email: steve.palmer@scie.org.uk