Today I would like to share a blog post from the mental health charity Rethink – here is a link to the original post
Can a book change your mood, or help you get through difficult times? Mehmood thinks it can. He tells us about a new project he’s part of which aims to help readers discover the healing powers of fiction. He tells us more…
In September 2014 I was running an online children’s book club when I met up with a psychiatrist. As we sat on a park bench having lunch, we discussed the possibility that books, and specifically fiction, could be used to provide support for mental wellbeing. The idea was to offer non-stigmatising support that was low cost and accessible.
Fast-forward just over a year and our service, biblio.life, has a thriving community of curators who offer readers book recommendations based on what readers tell them is going on in their lives.
Reader profiles are anonymised before being shared with one of our curators who enter into a conversation with readers to jointly arrive at a recommendation. We don’t favour any particular type of literature and recommendations range from Bridget Jones’ Diary to The Hobbit. Readers then have the option to close the conversation or to discuss the book with their curator as they read.
Is a book really going to change your life?
For us at biblio.life, a large part of what we do is around empathy. Author Roman Krznaric calls it the process of walking in someone’s shoes. Our curators take the time to try to understand or ‘walk alongside’our readers, and part of the reason our service is anonymous is so that readers can be honest and share whatever is on their minds.
The act of reading fiction encourages empathy in itself, by allowing readers to hear the internal thoughts of characters in a way that isn’t possible in real life. Anna Freud, one of the pioneers of child psychology, said that ‘in the great literary figures you will find people who know at least as much of human nature as the psychiatrists and psychologists try to do.’
Add to this the benefit of being supported whilst engaged in an enriching activity (we like to think of our curators as personal trainers for your mind) or simply just slowing down and we think our service can help a lot of people.
Whilst many, if not all, mental health professionals show empathy on a day-to-day basis, they often then go on to offer a diagnosis followed by treatment options. We believe our service offers an alternative approach to the ‘medical model’ of mental health. One in which being understood by someone thoughtful may be helpful in itself. One in which reading a book recommended with empathy can offer hope, insight, inspiration, or sometimes, simply, an escape. And most importantly of all, one which is completely free of stigma.
We don’t think we’re the answer to the world’s mental health problems but we do think that supported reading could make a welcome addition to a toolkit for coping. We’re accessible to anyone with an internet connection and are offering our service on a pay-what-you-want basis until 31 March.
You can find out more at www.biblio.life.