The healing power of books and libraries

Libraries are a profound resource that can use bibliotherapy to support people with fragile mental health, writes John Duffy

As one of the bibliotherapists who started the Kirklees project supported by Ann Cleeves and referred to in your editorial (The Guardian view on book therapy: an old idea finds new life, 4 September), I endorse what you and Ann say about the effectiveness of such schemes. I previously had a long career in social and community work, and felt I was most useful as a bibliotherapist.

What we learned is that there is no book or author that you can say with certainty is going to help with a particular issue such as depression or anxiety. People’s responses to the same poem, story or author are as varied as human beings are. What is needed is a wide variety of books brought to people by reading enthusiasts, and that means workers based in libraries.

We also invented Bookchat – an informal group discussion of books and authors. Rather than a therapy that made people with mental health issues fit to join wider society, we created something which looked so much fun that other library users asked if they could join in.

It will pay the NHS, local authorities and voluntary support organisations to see our libraries as a profound resource that can use bibliotherapy to help people with fragile mental health, their carers and support workers with the great gift of imaginative writing.
John Duffy
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


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