ALTHOUGH the term bibliotherapy was first coined in 1916, the prescribed use of books to change behaviour and ameliorate human distress has a long history dating back to ancient Greece.
The ancient Greeks were so convinced of the psychological and spiritual importance of literature that they had signs posted over the doors of libraries declaring them to be a 'healing place for the soul'.
In the therapeutic setting, bibliotherapy can comprise of both fictional and non-fictional materials.
Now a new book, THE NOVEL CURE, a recently published A-Z of literary remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, traverses 2,000 years of literature, matching much-loved books with ailments.
A good book, according to author Ella Berthoud, can leave people feeling altered in a fundamental way.
Priest Hernestus, who is currently enduring deep grief over the loss of his best friend, lover and partner in crime of nearly 30 years, has found much solace in this book and heartily recommends it.
"The Novel Cure" proposes, for example, that someone who has lost a job could find solace in "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis.
Meanwhile George Eliot's "ruthlessly unsentimental" "Middlemarch" gets to grips with the dilemma of having married the wrong person.
The idea is that through identification with a character in a story, the reader gains an alternative position from which to view his or her own issues.
By empathising with a character, the reader can undergo a form of catharsis through gaining hope and releasing emotional tension, which can lead to emotional change.
The book lists hundreds of common complaints ... from the common cold and fear of flying to compulsive-obsessive behavior and grief, and from boredom to lovesickness ... and offers examples of novels throughout literary history which offer insights ... and cures.