Bibliotherapy: helpful, harmful, or pure entertainment?

In mid-September 1990, when I booked myself into the John Bradshaw Center at Ingleside Hospital outside of LA, Mr. Bradshaw was enjoying his heyday as a popular self-help author and television darling. If you tuned to any PBS TV station during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s chances are pretty good you’d see the charismatic Bradshaw lecturing on the relationship of families and shame, especially during fund drives. He was a guest on all the talk shows, including Oprah, Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Phil Donahue. He even hosted his own talk show for a season or two. Bradshaw ended up writing six books altogether, three of which became New York Times bestsellers.

Patients at the Bradshaw Center weren’t allowed to watch live TV, but we could watch VHS tapes of John Bradshaw’s PBS series to our hearts’ content. I think I watched the entire 10-part Bradshaw on the Family series three times. Two of his books, Bradshaw on the Family and Healing the Shame that Binds You, were required reading. I still have my copies full of yellow highlights and notes scratched in the margins.

Bibliotherapy was a large part of the Bradshaw treatment. Along with books by the Center’s namesake, patients were encouraged to read pop psych books like Pia Mellody’s Codependent No More and the “bible” for the sexually abused (and purportedly sexually abused), The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. We had a lot of time to read, so many of us added popular self-help books of the time like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Some of these books proved helpful. Others I found either annoyingly repetitive or just inappropriate for my background and circumstances. One or two, I believe, actually did me harm.

I am a reader. And over the course of my life I have picked up books from the self-help sections of many a bookstore. I can honestly say some were outstanding and a few even life changing. I recently finished Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes and credit that book for helping me find the impetus to start writing my memoir and this blog.

So, gentle readers, how about you? Have you reaped any quality results from self-guided bibliotherapy? If so, what books would be your top recommendations? And on the flip side, if you’ve plowed through any pop psych or self-help books that left you cold, I’d love to hear about those too.

4 thoughts on “Bibliotherapy: helpful, harmful, or pure entertainment?

  1. kimnorthrop

    Oh man. I feel you Nancy. I read so many books trying to reconcile my diagnosis of “addict” with what I was actually feeling…it actually made increased my stress level. I think it’s dangerous to get diagnostic advice from books. I think it leads many people down the wrong path, and, as we have both experienced, actually made us worse. I believe stress and thought management to be much better skills to work on. I found Emotional Behavioral Therapy (EBT/ELLIS/) to be super useful, and, so too, Buddhism. They both help you answer key questions to stress management/organizing your life.

    Is This Important?
    Is It Important Right Now?
    What IS Important?

    EBT is used in Smart Recovery which is mainly addiction focused, but it’s a good fit for anyone who needs to manage stress better.

    I am loving what you are doing Nancy. Obviously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. barbapplestudios

    I have used a few titles that helped me and you are right, some are complete rubbish. Now, like you, Nancy, I am charged to write one. I don’t want to put forward the same old dribble though. I use my songs at the moment as an interlude.
    The Books: Not limited to
    Way of the peaceful Warrior – Dan Millman
    Johnathon Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach – (Game changer for me.)
    Adult Children of Abusive Parents – Dr. Steven Farmer
    The Alchemist – Paulo Coehlo
    Any books on Hypnotherapy
    And my buddhism practices

    I also believe that Biblitherapy is as good or as bad as any other type of therapy. Only in Bibliotherapy it is easier to define yourself as the therapist. You still have to do the work.
    And I married a Constance, no I really did, lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mauricio Navarro

    My all times favorite book: Voltaire’s “Candide”. Fall and get back again and again, without losing it in the mean time, living the “best of all possible worlds” like having to walk for the lack of a car but happy to have legs to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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