Bibliotherapy for depression: How reading can help

Depression is a serious mental illness that can be debilitating for those who suffer from it.

While there are many treatments available, such as medication and therapy, some people find that reading can also be an effective way to manage their symptoms.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the use of bibliotherapy for depression and how it can help those suffering from this condition, while also providing tips on how to get started!

What is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy, also known as book therapy or reading therapy, is a type of therapy that uses books and other written materials to help treat emotional and mental disorders.

The concept of bibliotherapy has been around for centuries, with many different cultures and religions using stories and texts to promote healing.

Today, bibliotherapy is recognized as a valid form of treatment by the mental health community, and there are studies that support its efficacy. Bibliotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and relationship problems.

It is often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or psychoanalysis, prescribed by a treating therapist to complement the work done in the therapy room. This type of homework can be a vital complement to traditional treatment.

Bibliotherapy can be an effective approach for people of all ages, and it is especially well-suited for those who enjoy reading or who have difficulty talking about their feelings.

Reading therapy

There is evidence to suggest that reading can be an effective tool for treating depression. This therapeutic reading approach can help people manage mood disorders, overcome negative thought patterns, and improve overall well-being.

The exact mechanisms by which this approach works are still being explored, but some possible explanations include regulating neurotransmitter levels in the brain, reducing feelings of isolation and other psychological effects of depression, and helping patients identify and address underlying issues through a more distanced perspective.

Additionally, research has shown that regular engagement with literature can have a wide range of other health benefits including stress reduction, improved focus and concentration, reduced risk of cognitive decline, and increased morale.

Overall, it seems clear that reading can be a powerful tool in managing depression, both as part of treatment itself and possibly as a preventative measure for those at risk. Let’s look at the science behind the approach.

Evidence of efficacy

One randomised controlled trial showed compelling evidence for the efficacy of the approach in treating subthreshold depression and managing automatic thoughts, demonstrating that bibliotherapy can provide an important complement or alternative to psychotherapy.

Another study demonstrated that both bibliotherapy and psychotherapy are viable treatment options for depressed older adults and that there was no difference in effect between the two treatments at a three-month follow-up.

In a systematic review of the randomised controlled trials that investigated the use of bibliotherapy in the treatment of depression, it was shown that,

Bibliotherapy appears to be effective in the reduction of adults depressive symptoms in the long-term period, providing an affordable prompt treatment that could reduce further medications.”

Clearly, further research is needed on the topic, although the current evidence appears very promising.

Adverse effects and precautions

The literature doesn’t report any adverse effects of bibliotherapy. However, if you’re severely or clinically depressed, seek expert clinical help, as self-directed ready therapy isn’t indicated in these cases.

Find recommendations online regarding the reading material, to ensure it’s appropriate for your current symptoms and doesn’t exacerbate your condition.

As with any new exercise, start slowly and build up your reading time, especially if you’re new to the activity.

Some of the symptoms of depression include reduced energy, low mood and a loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, so don’t be surprised if your reading concentration suffers.

Finally, don’t expect bibliotherapy to be a panacea for your problems. It will likely be far more effective when combined with other interventions such as face to face therapy, while engaging in nourishing self-care activities like exercise, social interaction, good sleep and a healthy diet.

How to get started

There are a number of ways to get started with bibliotherapy. One option is to see a therapist or counsellor who specializes in this type of treatment. Therapists can provide guidance on choosing the right books and materials for your needs.

Another alternative is to join a bibliotherapy group. which typically meet on a regular basis to discuss the chosen book or material. Reading therapy groups can be found online or at local libraries and community centres.

Obviously, having the support in place from a support group or qualified mental health professional will provide reassurance that you’ve chosen the best books for your symptoms and avoided potentially triggering material.

If you opt to go it alone, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • First, it’s important to select texts that are at an appropriate level for you. If you’re suffering from depression, for example, it might not be wise to start with a complex literary novel.
  • Second, be patient with yourself. Reading for therapy can be slow going, and it’s important to allow yourself the time and space to process your reactions. A useful complementary exercise is to use writing and journaling to help you assimilate your thoughts and feelings.
  • Third, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you find that you’re struggling. Reading therapy is currently only recommended for mild to moderate depression. In this way, bibliotherapy is not a replacement for professional treatment, but it can be a helpful adjunct to other forms of care.


Bibliotherapy, also known as reading therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that involves using books and other written materials to help treat mental health conditions.

The aim of the technique is to help people understand and manage their feelings, thoughts and behaviours, thereby regulating mood and improving overall wellbeing.

If you’re looking for a way to manage your depression, bibliotherapy might be worth considering. With the guidance of a professional via one-on-one sessions or through a reading therapy group, you can get started on your journey toward recovery.