Thursday, June 25, 2015


       Many readers have asked what, besides exercise, is my favorite form of therapy. I have no idea how to answer that question. I think I have learned something from each form of therapy I have tried. So, besides exercise, I am not sure I can give a favorite. 

       I do know a form of therapy that I go back to over and over again like I do with exercise, and it is bibliotherapy. It is the practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. That means using books to help alleviate the symptoms of mental illnesses someone may be facing at any given time. 

       Some like to trace its roots back to the oldest known library in the world, which was that of King Ramses II. Above the entrance to the chamber were written the words, "House of Healing for the Soul." That is a wonderfully romantic idea, and personally, I like it. However, there have since been many randomized controlled trials that have demonstrated that bibliotherapy has positive effects for disorders such as depression, addiction, self-harm, OCD, bulimia and insomnia. 

       I like things that have the greatest chance for positive change while having the lowest risk of negative side effects. I also like things that are inexpensive. If someone has a library card bibliotherapy is free, and if he/she doesn't like the book, then the worst side effect is losing an hour before deciding to return it. That is hard to beat. 

       There are some that respond best to fiction, where they can relate to a character and feel that they are not alone. Others seem to respond best to nonfiction. The research indicates that it doesn't matter which genre a person chooses as long as it is meaningful to him/her. 

       A quick online search of books or articles for what I am going through, or answers I would like to find, usually results in a multitude of possibilities. I write down my top ten from the list and get the ones I can. Then, I can pick one or two that really appeal to me once I get them home. The following books are easy places to start for those of us with mental illnesses and are some of my personal favorites as well. 

When I think I just can't go on anymore, and that life has handed me a raw deal, I grab this book and devour it. In its pages, a Viennese psychiatrist tells of his grim experiences in German concentration camps which led him to logotherapy, which is an existential method of psychiatry. His descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and lessons for survival always inspire me. For three years this psychiatrist labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife all perished. He makes the argument that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed vigor. His theory, known as logotherapy, holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and pursuit of what is meaningful to the individual.

There are many times that I feel that I face great disadvantages in my life because of my mental illnesses. In this book, Gladwell challenges how people think about disadvantages and obstacles, by offering a new interpretation of what it means to cope with a disability, or the loss of a parent, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks. He demonstrates how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.

 When I start wishing things were different I bathe my mind with the words found in this book. "If I only had more money I'd be happy." "If my family were different I would find peace." "If I didn't have _______ in my life I know I would find my bliss." In other words, when I start believing that someone or something is going to make me happy, I know it is time to read this one again.

When I realize that I am overcome with anxiety and am beginning to spiral out of control, I rush to my bookshelf and grab Carnegie's magnum opus. The simplicity of these techniques made me scoff the first time I read them. Then, I tried them. This book has saved me more times than I can count.

Finally, as many may suspect since I am an advocate of exercise, is a book full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration. Born to Run will engage your mind and inspire your body when you realize that one of the secrets to happiness is right at your feet.
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       As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the left and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
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