Several studies reveal that reading is therapeutic

by Cygne Sauvage

Through a chance encounter with a former college classmate I get an invitation to a group reading. Well, I am not entirely unfamiliar with this preoccupation but in my country this is a rare occurrence as the population, generally, has greater penchant for  drinking sessions or dinner parties than involving in a serious activity as analyzing a work of fiction.  My colleague, though, updates my outdated information. That is, there are now more of this type of social gathering being held because of what has been discovered and being promoted online as the therapeutic effects of reading a book.

Actually, the healing aftermath of consuming a novel is not a recent concept to me. I have come across this in several articles, one published in the The New Yorker almost three years ago written by Ceridwen Dovey titled “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

Bibliotherapy is the technical term for the process of prescribing reading materials to alleviate a person’s physical or emotional pain, and has been in existence for already more than a century.  Practitioners, like regular medical professionals, establish literary clinics and dispatch reading materials with therapeutic worth.  It is just like taking in a medicinal drug, or a calming potion. Some say it is an effective alternative to a nicotine patch for those who would want to kick their smoking addiction.

Reading fiction definitely imposes some changes in the reader’s psyche. Compelling stories have the power to bury one’s own life into the novel itself and secure a relief, no matter how temporary, from the present anguish or sentiment.  Thus, bibliotherapy comes in various forms, addressing diverse maladies whether arising from one’s physique or cerebral condition.   For example, literature courses are being conducted for prison inmates, each individual being recommended with a classic that delves on his/her committed transgression.  Likewise, senior citizens showing signs of dementia are encouraged to participate in book reading circles where participants are required to relate a summary of the book they have just consumed, honing their memory tools.

It is widely believed that the practice of bibliotherapy originated from the ancient Greeks who regard libraries as “healing places for the soul.”  Moreover, Sigmund Freud having used literary reading during psychoanalysis sessions has been written about.

A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology discusses the effects of reading about an experience in the stimulation of the same neurological regions of the brain as when the experience is real, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants.  “We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings,” the research findings claim.

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction has that fabulous repercussion on one’s well-being, it can’t be denied that it has maneuvered our minds into a state of enchanting pleasure, which brings the same health benefits and inner calm as deep relaxation during meditation.



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