The Healing Power of Literature

atkins-bookshelf-literatureIn a fascinating essay, Barbara Basbanes Richter (daughter of book expert Nicholas Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books) introduces us to Regine Detambel, a prolific French author and licensed physiotherapist, who uses literature to heal people. “Everything is literature if we know where to look,” Detambel explained,  “I didn’t create bibliotherapy — it existed in ancient Greece and Rome and was revived after World War I to heal soldiers who had experienced psychological trauma at the front… I think that working with the energy of an author — with poetry and metaphor, with stylistic and textual arrangements, and so forth — is extremely effective to revitalize the psyche. We are all creatures of language and so it is necessary to move and shift the language that resides within us so that our efforts are rewarded positively.”

Detambel is the pied piper of bibliotherapy. She teaches booksellers, librarians, doctors, nurses, doctors, and psychologists how literature can help people better understand themselves and to reconnect with the world; Detambel elaborates: “There’s more to bibliotherapy than just handing a book to someone and leaving them alone. There’s a certain rapport between the text and the body that must be considered too. Even before one’s eyes settle on the text, we must consider body posture, breathing, voice, and other physical considerations. I teach my [bibliotherapy] trainees how to renew the dialogue between words and the body.”

Detambel’s most fulfilling work is with the elderly, living in retirement centers, who feel abandoned and lonely. “[Their psyches are] abandoned, because culture is so rarely allowed to pass through the doors of establishments set up for the elderly. I don’t want these people to be left without words that could help them reestablish contact with their internal world. These people live in a sterile, naked, even cruel world. And unfortunately, they’re not alone.”

Thanks to Detambel’s championing of bibliotherapy, perhaps it is time to replace the decades-old medical adage, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” with “Read a book and call me in the morning.”

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
Why Read Dickens?
The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America

For further reading: 


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