Words for the wounded soul

We’ve been told time and again about the benefits of reading—it opens up a whole new world, boosts imagination, helps improve language skills and vocabulary, the list is endless. Now, add to that list—the power to heal. For many writers, the process of putting down their story is a cathartic one, as they reflect their inner conflicts and share vulnerable, intimate details through their fictional stories. On the other hand, for a reader, reading stories about victims, survivors and their families, brings about empathy and sympathy. But, if you’re a counsellor or therapist, it might interest you to know that you could use texts—novels, prose, poetry—in therapy sessions.

In bibliotherapy, the therapist first talks to the patient. If it is a high-school student, he tries to find out details about the student’s life—what interests him, and slowly the conflicts and issues that mentally affect him—post which the therapist slowly tries to create a process. The most important thing in bibliotherapy is to “feel the feelings that your patient is going through and live his/her conflict,” says Israeli bibliotherapist and author Yonatan Berg.

While bibliotherapy is used for emotional issues, some will say that every physical pain starts with a mental pain—that there’s a mind-body connect. As he listens to his patients, he thinks of an appropriate text to which the patient could relate. It could be texts addressing certain, issues, those that have harmony to them, texts about family, relationships, loneliness, trauma, happiness, etc. Once the bibliotherapist has a text in mind, he carries it to the next session to use in a process, which cannot be done by talking. “But we do not force the patient to read it, just because it’s a bibliotherapy session. If we have an option, we try to create space for text. If the patient wants to read it, we pass it on to him, and then ask questions about it. It’s an easy-going process,” explains Berg.

What texts you use depends on the patient. However, authors like Thomas Hardy or Shakespeare may not really work as their language is of a different era. “You need updated texts; those that use the language of the present or of the near past,” says Berg. “Poetry is elegant and full of music and harmony. Sometimes, the words lose their power because they’re too beautiful,” he adds. At the same time, Berg believes that poetry is quick and sharp, and is the highest level in the healing process. It hits a person’s spiritual existence at once, so “if I think about healing with literature, poetry comes to mind. It’s not the story, but the language that goes through. Of course, I carry poems that address the conflict of the patient,” he shares.

Each patient needs a different kind of text—historical, philosophical, abstract, or even thrillers. “With youth, sometimes I use Facebook as a tool for expression. I ask the youngster to create a Facebook page on blank paper; he writes a status, and then I write comments that will bring up issues that would be important to discuss together.” Berg also uses lyrics of popular songs to address a lot of problems,” he shares.

According to Berg, “Literature should make us restless; from then on we get into a process and this process is healing,” he says.