The Healing Powers of Storytelling

Bibliotherapy with Coffee

By: Cordelia Bloom

Before jumping right into the article, please enjoy this microfiction insert: 

How weird is it each time you enter a new therapist’s office? And especially in a foreign country where it’s always raining or freezing, gosh.

Mariposa thought to herself as she entered the room and shook off her coat. As she warmed her hands, she looked around: solid, olive-green and beige walls, Christmas lights and books of all genres, placed from top-to-bottom on floating shelves, a couch and wooden furniture placed in all the right areas, but the French windows were just magnificent.

How does she keep these plants alive, especially now during winter, I wonder? Could be the natural light. Oh, maybe this session won’t be too bad after all?

She sighed anxiously. There were plants everywhere: there were stand-alone, some on top-shelves, others over the coffee table, on the desk, by the windows, dangling from the ceiling, between books. It was all quite mesmerizing! Both her curiosity and awe were interrupted when the door opened.

“Hello there. Apologies for the wait, miss—”

She jumped, knocking down a vase with an in-the-clouds bouquet. “Oh, my—I’m sorry!” She stressed as she picked up all the flowers. “So much for first impressions,” she whispered.

“Miss Mariposa, please. No need to apologize. Leave those flowers be. Come, have a seat.”

Mariposa managed to grab all the flowers, along with the vase and stood up quickly, and awkwardly stuttered, “Hi, gosh. I’m ss—um, hello?”

“It’s very nice to meet you. Feel free to call me Shiloh,” she said in her warm English tone, something Mariposa was still getting used to. “Let’s jump right in, shall we? Tell me about yourself. What worries do you bear? How can I help?”

“Well let’s see,” Mariposa cringed, “I’m from Portland, Oregon. I recently turned 30. I got laid off from a job I worked for most of my adult life. I’ve given up on love, I signed divorce papers two weeks ago. I can’t seem to do anything right honestly,” and she let out a cry, “I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I’ve no motivation or purpose. I flew to my aunt’s country house here in London. I’m feeling like a failure, a coward. I’m lost. I’ve hit rock bottom, haven’t I?”

Shiloh shared a compassionate look, and with a very calm and peaceful tone, she said, “I realize that could not have been easy to express. Thank you for sharing it with me. May I tell you what I’ve gathered from what you’ve just conveyed?”

Mariposa sighed and nodded as she quietly wiped her tears. Shiloh continued, “You have been given the opportunity to start over. That fact that you’re here, and not just in my office, but in London, proves you’re more than capable of reinventing yourself. It might not feel like it currently, but you’ve opened yourself up to new tastes, adventures, challenges, and a new career perhaps. ‘You want nothing but patience—or give it a fascinating name, call it hope.’ Do you know who said that?”

“Jane Austen,” she quickly answered, and both smiled at each other. 

“Indeed. Well, I am going to prescribe three books, and all are intended for your heart and soul. I’d like you to take a step back to the year 1813 and revisit Pride and Prejudice. Afterwards, fast forward to the late 1960s and read 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Finally, jump to the 21st century and read The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Frasier. I also need you to journal or take notes of any fears or emotions that might arise as you read, anything at all. We’ll talk about those on our next appointment, and in the meantime, if you have questions, I’m only a phone call away, Mariposa. How about we meet up again in a couple of weeks?”

“Yes please,” Mariposa said as she held her hands tight to her chest, “I haven’t even started reading yet, and somehow I already feel…” 


A Creative Arts Therapy

Isn’t that the most amazing thing ever—the fact that reading in itself can help us heal? Bibliotherapy involves storytelling or the reading of specific texts. It focuses on an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry, and other written words. 

Sara Lindberg, from Verywell Mind, explains that bibliotherapy aims to help us improve our lives by providing information, support, and guidance in the form of reading books and stories. The concept of reading helps facilitate the healing process to meet therapeutic goals (2021).

Another way to explain bibliotherapy is to imagine it as a dynamic three-way interaction involving the use of a book, a counselor, and a client (Gladding, n.d.). As seen in the consultation above, the counselor (Shiloh) and the client (Mariposa) have a discussion about the difficulties in the client’s life, and then the counselor ‘prescribes’ a book to read. It’s absolutely crucial that the ‘prescribed’ book relates directly to the client’s troubles. Identifying with the protagonist is key! Once they meet again for a follow-up, they’ll both talk about how the protagonist handled any given challenge(s), and further discuss how the applicability of the solution in the book ties into the client’s situation.

Bibliotherapy can be beneficial for just about anybody. It can be useful when someone is dealing with anxiety, depression, relationships, isolation, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. It can also be practical for managing anger; the list can keep going, but this definitely gives us a good idea of how broad it can be! 

Therapy Is Cooler With Books

To our surprise, there’s five (main) different types of bibliotherapy, such as:

  1. Creative (to read and discuss in group settings with stories, poems, and fiction)
  2. Developmental (focused in educational settings to explain childhood and adolescent issues)
  3. Prescriptive (centered in self-help books to help modify thought patterns, feelings, and actions)
  4. Therapeutic (combined with other types of therapy to manage psychological issues)
  5. The Book on Prescription version (health professionals and libraries work together to offer books as a healing method)

Through the use of stories in fiction and nonfiction books, poetry, plays, short stories, and self-help materials, a bibliotherapist can help us deeper understand why we’d jump into a counseling session in the first place. 

This creative art of healing has multiple and incredible benefits! It can guide us to personal insight and perspective. It can also promote problem-solving, understanding, and self-awareness. Who wouldn’t want to develop a sense of deepening of ourselves?

Additionally, bibliotherapy may also encourage writing therapy as well, and one of the strongest tools recommended is ‘book journaling’.

Book Journaling Club

A bibliotherapist will most likely encourage us to keep a journal of not just all the books we’ve read, but of those that have moved us. Bijal Shah, from Book Therapy, defines “journaling as one of the best ways to connect with ourselves, because it allows us to reflect on our emotions and thoughts, and gain some clarity amidst the day-to-day stresses and strains of life. It brings a sense of calm and helps us make sense of our world and ourselves. Book journaling, in particular, is a unique and profound way to connect with ourselves — through the characters we encounter, the imaginative experiences we immerse ourselves in, and the emotions they bring up for us as we vicariously live the books we read” (2021). 

In other words, book journaling allows us to process our current situations by self-identifying with a protagonist; and as that story progresses, we learn how to cope and grasp clarity of possibly how to resolve our own story. 

There are many ways to start book journaling, and three effective steps to get started are:

  1. Select literature that you truly connect with—what have you read that’s truly touched you?
  2. Highlight, journal, and reflect—what passages tickled your heart? Why?
  3. Consolidate—what have you discovered after consolidating your feelings and emotions on paper? Did you unravel a lesson, or were you able to get closer to your North?

Undoubtedly, bibliotherapy has the sole purpose of connecting literature to the self, by stirring our innermost thoughts, fears, and feelings; and consequently removes layers of uncertainty and offers resolutions of modern life’s hardships. It also has the intention of helping us lead a richer and well-read life. Book journaling is the perfect place to record our confessions and reflections, and it could ultimately help shape our most genuine selves. 

If, for example, I were to apply self-bibliotherapy today, I would start by thinking about the last book I read that triggered a memory, a fear, a pain, or a jolt of happiness. Did it help me figure out a situation? How did I identify with the protagonist? The Love Story is a safe space. It’s a place we all come to share our experiences through the arts of writing and reading. Journal entries can be used as prompts to write about our feelings, thoughts, among others. Journal with The Love Story by clicking the link below, and share what story illuminated an answer for you. Be curious and wonder: what books have truly made an impact on your life? There is no right or wrong approach or perspective, just bring yourself.

Begin Journaling Here

Disclaimer: If you’re an avid book reader and need support in dealing with mental health issues, then bibliotherapy is something worth investigating.


BetterHelp Editorial Team, & Williams, A. (2023, February 24). What is bibliotherapy? BetterHelp.

Gladding, S. (n.d.). What is bibliotherapy? Verywell Mind.

Lindberg, S., & Susman, D. (2021, August 29). What is bibliotherapy? Verywell Mind.

Shah, B. (2020, January 31). Why you should book journal. Book Therapy.

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