The healing power of books and poems
There’s something very powerful about the written word.
You’re struggling with something in your own life, and then you read a poem that was created centuries ago, or a few words of dialogue in a novel by someone on the other side of the world.
And despite the barriers of time, culture and space, they’re describing exactly what you’re feeling. Someone understands. You’re not alone.
Here’s a verse from the defiant, inspirational poem “Still I Rise,” by the African-American author Maya Angelou:
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
These redemptive words, from one of Angelou’s bestknown poems, will be part of an innovative kind of therapy coming to Waterloo Region: Bibliotherapy, otherwise known as healing through reading.
Mandy Brouse, who is coowner of Words Worth Books in Waterloo, is planning to start with sessions called “Shelf Life: Creative Bibliotherapy Workshops.”
The two-hour sessions will be intimate, with about eight people in each, and the topic for the first group is: “From Fear to Joy: Cultivating Resilience in the Face of Fear.”
As a bookseller, she has run book clubs for years, but this is different. Book clubs focus on the books themselves. In these sessions, the readings will be a jumping-off point for personal discovery.
People have been doing this informally for years, of course. Literary fiction is already known to foster empathy, and bookworms are proven to live nearly two years longer than people who don’t read.
Even six minutes a day of reading an engrossing book can significantly reduce stress levels, according to a study from Sussex University in England.
People know this instinctively, and turn to books for healing. Brouse has often been asked by customers for books on certain topics in the human experience.
“I know what people struggle with,” she said.
The session will also include poetry by Pablo Neruda; a memoir on grief called “H is for Hawk,” by British author Helen Macdonald; and part of the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by the Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl.
The excerpts and poems will be read — not ahead of time as in a regular book club — but will be read aloud when the group meets.
This provides a “more authentic, immediate experience,” Brouse said.
“We’re all reading and experiencing something together at exactly the same time,” she said. “We’re literally all on the same page.”
She hopes the discussion that follows will provide a safe environment to delve into these challenges of life with insight and gravity, free from that social isolation that so many of us contend with.
Brouse has a degree in sexuality, marriage and family studies, with a concentration in counselling. But she is not setting these sessions up as clinical therapy. Rather, the intention is to spark creativity and provide some guidance for each individual journey.
The sessions will be held at the Delton Glebe Counselling Centre in Waterloo. The fee is nominal. If you are interested in joining, contact Brouse at email@example.com