Thursday, 6 October 2016

Bibliotherapy and Transformative Writing

by Josephine-Anne Griffiths

Last week I received my October/November issue of Newswrite, a bi-monthly magazine published by the NSW Writers’ Centre.

I always enjoy reading their publication, but within this issue, there were two articles which took my attention. 
Firstly, the article titled ‘Do You Really Want to Be Published?’ by Jo-Anne Berthelsen, and secondly the article which discusses ‘Bibliotherapy’ where Eleanor Limprecht talks about her experience with this emerging form of therapy. I want to talk about Jo-Anne’s article, but will leave that for another post, as it has got me doing some serious soul-searching, and I need more time to ponder.

When I saw the word ‘bibliotherapy’ I knew what it was about, as I had seen numerous jokes around the subject. I guess I never realised how truly therapeutic reading is for the body, mind, and spirit. Well, I have always enjoyed getting lost in a book … but therapeutic is quite a powerful word.

Of course, I also enjoy writing … no arguments there. But why? 
If I may quote Julie Gary, the founder of ‘Stories Without Borders’ … Julie notes that:

"People who have experienced trauma in their lives, whether or not they consider themselves writers, can benefit from creating narratives out of their stories. It is helpful to write it down, in other words, in safety and in non-judgment. Trauma can be quite isolating. Those who have suffered need to understand how they feel and also to try to communicate that to others." 

So we are agreed that I love nothing better than to put the kettle on, make a nice warm cuppa, and sit for at least a couple of hours reading my latest treasure.

However, writing has always been a passion of mine.
It does relax me and make me incredibly happy … especially when the right words come onto the page. But therapy?

I have done a few stints as a patient and out-patient in a psychiatric hospital, well known as St John of God. There was a time when I would have been far too shy or inhibited to tell you that. But now I am at peace with myself, and it doesn’t bother me at all. I am quite sane (some may argue that point), and like so many people who go unnoticed, I just desperately needed someone to talk to … and someone to listen with compassion and understanding. I received all that at St John of God, and so much more. I could continue on this track, but I’ll save that for another day.

No matter what we write, or why we write, it will always be special. Whether it’s a short story, a poem, a blog or a journal … or indeed a letter that's been carefully written out in our best handwriting (whether for the eyes of others, or just our own) – It is, after all, an expression of who we are, and what we think and feel.

Writing has the power to transform us … body, mind, and spirit. ‘How is that?’ I hear you say.

We can talk to our heart’s content, but we are never going to unfold all of the creases within, by talk alone. Writing out our thoughts and feelings about past events, current affairs, items of general interest etc., helps us to process things more effectively. It may just be a matter of remembering to express gratitude for our lives, or it could be around coming to terms with some form of trauma. We are all unique, and as such, we have varying stories. The power of the pen, to heal, is often understated. In general, us writers can be closet introverts. Note, I did say ‘in general’.
I know with myself, it has always been much easier to write something down than to say it out loud. I am either extremely shy or incredibly depressed *winking and smiling madly*.

The other thing I want to mention is the importance of ‘whatwe read and/or write. If we have recently been attacked and robbed of our possessions, it probably would be a bad idea to read some fast-paced murder/crime/thriller.

Something classical and carefree may be more appropriate, or perhaps a lovely romance. 

During my school years, I wasn't fond of poetry. I don't know why. Maybe because we had to learn some really long poems off by heart, and when we made mistakes the teacher would whack us with a ruler. These days I love poetry. It often conveys what is deep down within our hearts, when ordinary words or prose just won't cut it.

So on that note, I would recommend jumping into and savouring the poetry of T. S. Eliot, "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."

John Keats, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness."

Hans Christian Andersen, "Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all. "

or perhaps William Wordsworth, "Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future."

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."

... and quite a few more ... and you shouldn't miss reading books such as "Anne of Green Gables" by Canada's beloved Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Of course in my view, the Holy Bible would most likely cover most of life’s circumstances. However, everyone needs some variety in their repertoire – we just need to be certain that the content is wholesome. How about an adventure in Middle-earth while reading J. R. R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', or voyaging back to 'Narnia' with C. S. Lewis ... or perhaps an 'Escape to the Country' with Nicki Edwards?

So ... I have come to the conclusion that not only can reading and writing be therapeutic for ourselves, it can also heal and transform others, and that is why we must be careful about what words we place on the page.

I am currently hooked on romances with happy endings, but I also like stories with a mysterious, suspenseful element. 

Do you think there is merit in the practice of Bibliotherapy?

What are you reading? What are you writing? Why?
I'd love to know ... please feel free to comment below.

Josephine-Anne Griffiths previously worked in the field of finance and administration. Once early retirement became necessary, and having always been an avid reader and passionate writer, the next step became logical. She is continuing to work on a fictional memoir 'Charlie Dreams' and a small book of inspirations, yet to be given a title. She has tried her hand at short story writing and more recently poetry, in addition to inspirational, narrative non-fiction. Always loving a challenge, Josephine is planning to skill-up to enable the crafting of a short Contemporary Romance, in addition to a more personal memoir, which would concentrate on the life long issues around living with Bipolar disorder. Josephine-Anne, fondly known as Jo’Anne, is married to Leon. They have six children and six grandchildren between them. You will find Jo’Anne either lost within a book, behind her keyboard or in her garden day-dreaming.

You are also welcome to contact Jo’Anne via the following links:



  1. What a lovely post Jo'Anne! My first time of seeing the word bibliotheraphy....It really resonates with me. I think we must be kindred spirits! I have long found peace and inspiration from journaling and love having a couple of different books on-the-go.
    Thank you for sharing your personal journey.

    1. Thanks Di :-)
      Yes, perhaps we are kindred spirits!
      My writing isn't coming along that well due to health issues, however I still love to journal (which I do every day), and of course I am getting back to my blog which brings me much comfort as well. Books ... ah yes, I am afraid I'm guilty of having too many on the go.
      A wee bit like Dory, that little blue fish "Oh look, another book!" :-D

  2. What an inspiring post Jo'Anne. Loved it. I've always found that both reading and writing are deeply therapeutic for me so I agree 100% that writing transforms us. Reading too. I also discovered that I find out what's inside of me as I write - a wonderful to figure out myself and life and God and His world.

    I faced a mini crisis about writing last week (it lasted only one day thankfully since a friend knocked some sense into me) when I wondered if I should give up writing altogether. In the light of that, I want to explore my calling again today - so your post was the perfect start to it. I've been thinking that even if I don't make it as a writer - all the writing I've done over my lifetime still does not count for nothing (pardon the double negative). Your words only serve to emphasise it. Your quotes are wonderful. I think I shall copy your blog to read again today and ponder and be energised by.

    What am I reading? The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando (excellent book which I fully recommend), God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew, The Secret of Loving by Josh MacDowell, Blaze in the Storm by our very own Jenny Glazebrook, Turning hearts towards home by Rolf Zettersten (The Life and Principals of Dr James C. Dobson, In my Father's House by Corrie Ten Boom, Prayer by Richard Foster, Maria by Maria Von Trapp and Mixed Blessings Genre-ally speaking published by Deb Porter of Breath of Fresh Air press. :) Yes, I believe in dabbling in a lot of books at the same time.

    As for writing, I seem to have been doing a lot of blog writing this year, and not just my own. I'm getting a children's book and a book of hope (for troubled times) ready to send off to publishers. God's been nudging my heart of late to write a book to encourage people struggling with chronic illness. Perhaps that's what my fibro battle has been about!

    I'm sorry this has got so long Jo'Anne, but you spoke to my heart today (straight from the Father's heart) so you got me rambling! :) Thank you so much. It's transformed me too.

    1. PS Forgot to mention Jo'Anne that this is my season of song. God's been blessing me with music in my heart and nudging my heart to do more composing. So I've been writing worship songs which are definitely therapeutic - especially as I sing them back to my Creator God who gave them to me. :)

    2. Wow! What a bundle of talent you are Anusha :-)
      God certainly wasn't stingy when he handed out your talents.

      Thank you so much, your comments have made me feel so much better. I kept going in and looking at my post before finally scheduling it ... I was so worried that it wasn't good enough. Thank you! Thank you!

      I too have been thinking about giving up writing due to the fact that my health just isn't good. Between Rheumatoid Arthritis, Mental Health issues, and also being Leon's carer, I sometimes feel like I am going around the twist. In addition to these things, I have noticed over the past twelve months that my short-term memory is going. The doctor just says it is all in my head, because I am generally sharp. If you give me some things (objects) to remember, I will recall most of them in five minutes or so. However, I forget things from one day to the next ... it is like they never happened (e.g enrolling in something, buying something, promising things to others etc). I cannot find my way around in the car anymore without using a GPS (thank Jesus that I can remember how to operate it). Motivating myself each day to do just the basic of things is very difficult some days. Anyway, enough of that ;-)

      My mind was pretty much made up ... then you sent me this beautiful response to my post. I will continue to write, but maybe I'll try to put less pressure upon myself. If I deviate from my daily (especially morning routine), everything goes pear-shaped). You inspire me to get back to basics, and start making those lists again, following my diary to the letter, having a list of specific tasks for each day etc.

      I am so happy for you Anusha, that your writing is coming along in leaps and bounds (blog, children's book and a Book of Hope ... wow!). I love that you are musical - this is the best gift that God can give to you, and you selflessly give it right back :-)

      I too apologise for the length of my response. I got a wee bit carried away. Probably I should call you on the telephone one day and have a "short" chat ;-)

      I am so glad that I am not the only one who puts their head in so many books at the one time. You have now given me some more to add to my 'wish to read' list.

      I shall be praying for you with your fibromyalgia dear sister, as I do understand what chronic illness and pain is like. May God bless you in everything that you are striving to achieve. :-)

    3. Thank YOU sweet Jo’Anne for your beautiful response. Good enough??? Your post was fabulous, so please don’t think otherwise for a minute. As I said, it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. You blessed me so – and I have no doubt you have blessed many others too.

      Thank you too for your kind words. Bundle of talents? Actually what caused my crisis was one of my writing failures – and wondering if I was being silly to write – seeing how little progress I've made in the almost 10 years since I began this writing journey!  So your lavish words certainly encourage me.

      I do feel heaps for you about your health challenges dear Jo’Anne. Wow – that sure is a lot to contend with! I will be praying for you to find a way through it all. I can understand your concern over your short term memory but very glad your doctor thinks otherwise. I’d guess that a lot of it is due to stress? You have had a lot on your plate – and stressful times do affect our memories. I fully understand your dilemma because I too find that my body lets me down when I get a chance to write. Quite often – when I have time to write, my body is screaming in fatigue and pain – so doing anything creative is out of the question. Very discouraging isn’t it? But glad you thought of how to do it – yes, be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to do as little as you like when your body and other events don’t allow much. Having a flexible list is a great idea – so that if you can’t get through them all – just re-schedule for the next day (happens to me all the time! )

      My writing hasn’t been going in leaps and bounds unfortunately – blame it on my fibro – since my energy levels have been so bad this year. However, today is a good day – after a long while! Yay!  Glad you are like me in many ways. Thanks so much for your prayers which mean a lot to me. Be blessed dear Jo’Anne even as you have blessed us all today. Keep writing. You are very good at it! And God’s smiling down at you as you persevere especially with all the difficulties you have to wade through. Thanks again for a post which inspired me! I will re-read it you may be sure.  God bless you too my friend and looking forward to seeing you in person at the conference.

    4. PS Sorry about all the rectangles! They were all smiles turned into rectangles for some reason. :)

  3. Hi Jo'Anne,
    I so agree that this type of reading and writing is extremely valuable. There are people out there who even call themselves 'book apothecaries' and make consultations with their patients to prescribe their reading matter very seriously. I'd be first to say that often the right book at the right moment is up there with sunshine, fresh air and exercise as a restorative, whether or not you happen to be writing it or reading it.

    1. Thank you Paula,
      Hmmm ...'book apoththecaries'. I guess that would be the same as a 'bibliotherapist'. You know I hadn't heard of that before, but I think it's a marvellous idea. Hopefully, my mojo will return and I'll get lots of books read and reviewed ... then with all the reviewing, Just-Jo'Anne the writer will hopefully return ;-)

  4. Yes, I found that bibliotherapy article interesting too, Jo'Anne.And I agree, as Limprecht states, that books can 'comfort and enlighten us, focus and revitalise us'. Re what I read, I usually have several books 'on the go' and pick up one or the other according to how I am feeling. For example, if I want to reflect deeply for a while, I will choose a thoughtful non-fiction book. But if I want to relax my mind more, I will choose a novel. But I am careful about which novels I choose--if I am feeling tense about something, I don't want to read something that makes me feel even more tense!

    Re what and why I write--well, that's a big question! I will just say at this point that, for me, writing my two non-fiction books definitely helped me gain more perspective on my own life, but I put them out there in order for God to use my experiences to help others reflect on their own lives and go their own journeys with God.

    1. Thank you Jo-Anne :-)
      It is always interesting to see what and why, people read, write or do the things they do. I know that a lot of what I want to write will be very therapeutic for myself, and hopefully others - but I feel sometimes that the emotions that writing these things brings up, are enormous.

  5. Love your reflections Jo'Anne. Though I don't write my life experience or read and write for therapy so much, I have found, in moment of crisis, poetry a way of expressing deep emotion that is hard to put into words. And I know it has indeed been therapeutic for many.

    I love your quote from Jeanette Winterson 'Literature isn't a hiding place, it is a finding place.' :)

    1. Thanks Jenny :-)
      I have discovered the beauty of poetry in recent times too. It is very comforting. I love that quote too. A lot of people do think that having a passion for writing and reading, means that we may be somewhat boring with our heads constantly stuck within a book, or we are glued to the computer for no real purpose. How wrong could they be? I always discover something new and fascinating when reading or writing.

  6. Loved your wonderful post. So many thoughts to ponder and savour, which I am and will. I have certainly read material (including poetry) which has transformed my thinking and my state of mind. It took me many years to discover how utterly transforming writing could be. I'm so glad I did. My life is so much richer for it.

    1. Thank you Mazzy :-)
      Lovely to see you share my love of all things bookish. Well, you wouldn't be here if you didn't ... right? I'll have to get organised now though, and walk the talk, so I can be transformed.

    2. Thank you Mazzy :-)
      Lovely to see you share my love of all things bookish. Well, you wouldn't be here if you didn't ... right? I'll have to get organised now though, and walk the talk, so I can be transformed.

  7. Yes, Jo'Anne, thanks for sharing your journey with us. Bibliotherapy - what a wonderful idea. I have been a book-a-holic since my mother taught me to read as a wee child but only a writer for the last 20 or so years. This year though for many reasons my writing has definitely been put on the back burner. I used to feel a bit guilty about it but God has been very gracious in providing as much editing and related tasks to keep me occupied and happy about being at least somewhat productive in the areas of my gifts. I am in the back straight of a possibly final proofread of a Theology PhD Thesis for a pastor friend (only just short of 98,000 words) which I have (as strange as it may seem) thoroughly enjoyed doing.

    So you enjoy your time reading and resting when you need to. I am in awe of those like you who are challenged everyday with health issues that you persevere like you do in every area of your life.

    I, too, have a few books on the go at once usually but I won't list them here - suffice is to say that most of them are mutual friends of both of us and members of this group. I haven't had as much time this year to read either but continue to plough through as I can, hoping to get into more reviewing in the future but first - need to concentrate on the personal issues that need sorting out.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the conference later this month. Many blessings to you. You are constantly in my prayers.

    1. My apologies for not noticing this Lesley, and replying sooner. I agree with you, even when the writing process is slowing down or coming to a screeching halt, anything we can do to keep our gifts alive is okay; whether it be editing, proofreading, reading and reviewing. It was lovely to have spent time with you this last weekend at conference.

  8. "People who have experienced trauma in their lives, whether or not they consider themselves writers, can benefit from creating narratives out of their stories. It is helpful to write it down, in other words, in safety and in non-judgment. Trauma can be quite isolating. Those who have suffered need to understand how they feel and also to try to communicate that to others."

    That explains quite a bit! :-)

    1. Thank you Lynne. Yes, I have always kept a journal (just as well with my memory). From experience I can agree with you and verify that trauma is extremely isolating. I may write about my experience one day, as it would be healing and refreshing for me, and maybe help others who have been through a similar situation. I received your latest book and I thank you for that. I haven't had the chance to read it yet, but God willing I will soon. It was lovely to meet you in person at the conference in Mulgoa. I'm looking foward to next year. God bless :-) xo

  9. A very inspiring post, Jo'Anne. I have used bibliotherapy (without even knowing the word) and cathartic narrative with many counselling clients and appreciate the effectiveness of your suggestions! I can also understand why you would want to ponder Jo-Anne's question. Being so snowed under with responsibilities and not being well yourself, no wonder you feel like giving up SOMETIMES. These times pass and things look up again, so please don't lose heart. Instead, be kind to yourself and enjoy the times you get to read and write. Take it easy and even have a little break - but DON'T EVER GIVE UP. The Lord has put the desire to write into your heart, and therefore He will give you the strength to bring it to fruition - in His time. Often it's fear (of failure, of not being good enough, or even of success) that makes us shy away from accomplishing the very thing we really want. But remember, 2Ti 1:7 says, "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." Thanks for a great, multi-faceted post (also liked the different quotes you put in)! Hope to get to meet you at the conference in Sydney.

  10. Thank you Margaret :-)
    Thank you for your compassionate reply. As a counsellor you would be very familiar with the benefits of both reading and writing. Thank you for your encouragement ... no I won't give up even though at times I feel like it. The conference at Mulgoa on the weekend was wonderful, and during one of the workshops (run by Meredith Resce) we were asked to write something then invited to read it out. Well naturally I was paralised with fear, not about the writing, but about the prospect of having to read it out to everyone. I didn't believe that my writing was worthy of being heard by such a talented group. I now regret not reading out what I had written. Surely it wasn't that bad. I'm sorry that you weren't able to attend the conference on the weekend. God willing you will be there next year, and we can spend some time together.
    God bless :-) xo