Via Reddit, I learned of a program that has therapists prescribing books for patients with depression and other mental/emotional problems. SmithsonianMag.com reports that the main texts are self-help and are meant to assist patients with OCD, anxiety, anorexia, and various phobias.
“Bibliotheraphy,” as it is called, should mostly include literature rather than one of the dozen works titled “Overcoming Depression” mentioned in the SmithMag article.
As Leah Price says in the Boston Globe article from with SmithMag got the idea, poetry and fiction offer a better source for help as readers can model themselves on a character who stands as an ideal for the person.
Not recommended: Moby-Dick, unless one’s aim corralling a group of oppressed strangers into satisfying one’s obsession. Also not recommended: Anna Karenina with serial adultery, various types of repression, suicide, and a climate almost as nasty as that on board the Pequod. And despite the suggestion from the therapists, I don’t think I’d prescribe Alice Munro’s stories, either. We have the uplifting themes of dementia, frustrated love, isolation, and child abuse, along with big doses of borderline poverty.
A quick side note: Comparing the stress-reducing effects of reading and tea drinking seems a non-starter: Just imagine the benefits of combining the two activities.
So what fiction would I recommend? Jane Austen, of course. Not because of the “happily ever after” endings – being Austen folk there will be bumps along the way after the novels end. No, I’d recommend J.A. because of her ability to examine her corner of society with an acute satirical eye. I will quote my favorite opening line from Pride and Prejudice once more: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How can you help but laugh, thus elevating your mood? And if you can’t love Emma, you’ve got to love Clueless, the twentieth-century movie take.
The big winners in the bibliotherapy arena are libraries, where the patients go to fill their “prescriptions.” What a great way to attract new readers and to expand the horizons of existing patrons. Now if they would just serve tea!