Literary Blog Hop: Books as Therapy?

Literary Blog Hop
The Literary Blog Hop is a bi-weekly hop designed for those blogs that focus on the literary.  It is hosted by The Blue Bookcase, if anyone is interested in joining in.  This week's questions is about "bibliotherapy:"

Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction? 

I have some mixed feelings on this topic.  Yes, I think that bibliotherapy is a viable form of therapy, when utilized by a practitioner in a clinical setting.  My initial reaction to this question was, sure, reading is therapeutic, and it is.  But then, as I was reading Laurie's post over at What She Read, some red flags started to pop up for me and I realized that I should be careful with my answer.  

I think that most of us readers use reading as a therapeutic exercise at some point.  It also seems- from the Wikipedia page- that "bibliotherapy" is a lot like art therapy, in that reading a writing are used as tools as a part of therapeutic regime.  That is all well and good, but I think it is dangerous to say that if someone is suffering from serious depression or another clinical diagnoses that reading books (all on your own) is a good form of therapy.  I also think that there are some self-help books out there that are useful therapeutic tools.

This idea that reading at writing are a path to the unconscious is, of course, not new.  Freud wrote an essay entitled "Creative Writers and Daydreaming" that discusses what he believed to be the connections between writing the psyche.  Books and writing produced by a patient are products of the unconscious, like dreams, or children's play, or fantasies, and they can be "read" by the therapist to access repressed memories, childhood traumas which the analysand is attempting to rectify, all that Freudian stuff.  They also allow us to act out scenarios that are not possible in real life, without the attendant potential trauma (see: horror). According to Freud, creative writing is a sort of wish-fulfillment, in which the reader also participates. Of course the result of this essay is a lot of vulgar Freudian analysis of literature, which he invites when he suggests that we "study the connections that exist between the life of the writer and his works."  

Although I'm not totally on the boat with Freud -I never am (read: the section about male ambition-fantasies and female erotic fantasies)- I'm always a little bit on the boat with Freud (like on the dock, at least).  I think it is an interesting concept that the reader and the writer share a fulfilled wish in the reading of a work.  In fact, Freud ends his essay with his own definition of the bibliotherapy: 
"In my opinion, all the aesthetic pleasure which a creative writer affords us has the character of a forepleasure of this kind, and our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds. It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer's enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own daydreams without self-reproach or shame.  This brings us to the threshold of new interesting, and complicated inquiries; but also, at least for the moment, to the end of our discussion."

And the end of ours :)
What are your thoughts on "bibliotherapy?"


  1. Almost seems like we read (or write) when we get too old to play. Children have creative outlets for their imaginations that adults don't get to use anymore.

  2. @Susan: That's just what Freud says:) He says that play lets us create our reality, and when we are adults we have to create it through fantasy, which we tend to want to keep secret.

  3. L - Wondering what you mean by "vulgar" Freudian anaylsis of literature...(I can well imagine, knowing my Freud, but your follow- up sentence pointing to the use of an autobiographical lens on literature made me wonder. I can wax as post-Modernist as anybody, but don't entirely discount the connection between a writer's life and his/her work.)
    And, Susan: I surely hope that all of us who read and blog have not abandoned play. I know I haven't!

  4. @Laurie: Vulgar Freud is a reference to using Freud in a really literal way. For example,saying something like Nathaniel Hawthorne hates women because he wanted to sleep with his mother when he was a child. It is just applying Freud without any of the nuance, which he does have, but he also makes it really easy to apply his theories in a "vulgar" way. I agree that obviously the author's life influences his or her writing, just not in a the kind of direct way that Freudian analysis sometimes invites.

  5. @L - That's exactly what I figured. Just double checking that we held the same understanding of the phrase: thanks! And I hope you have a lovely weekend.

  6. Personally, it absolutely it, but I think it really depends on the person and their concerns.


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