British doctors start prescribing books to help treat depression, anxiety and other disorders

By Travis Gettys
Monday, December 30, 2013 8:42 EDT
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Doctors have been prescribing books to help treat patients with depression in hopes that reading will help them find connections.

Under a new program that launched in June by Britain’s National Health Service, primary care physicians may recommend specific titles to patients diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, according to a Boston Globe article by Leah Price.

“Bibliotherapy” is based in part on research by the Welsh psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Frude, who noticed that some of his patients had begun reading about their mental health conditions while awaiting treatment – and some of the self-help books appeared to help.

British doctors are prescribing such titles as “Overcoming Depression,” “Mind Over Mood” and “The Feeling Good Handbook” for patients diagnosed with depression, and they’re prescribing other books for patients with such conditions as obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, anxiety and eating disorders.

The term bibliotherapy was first coined in 1916 by the American clergyman Samuel Crothers, who noticed that books could influence a person’s mood, and physicians and social workers have been recommending books to help others with their problems.

But researchers have found that some self-help books read under a therapist’s supervision are about as effective for treating depression as individual or group therapy.

Another study found that books could effectively treat anxiety, even without a therapist’s guidance, although the effects have been shown to be relatively short-term.

But as budgets for mental health treatment are slashed in the U.S. and Britain, physicians have found that books are, quite literally, better than nothing.

Even if recommended titles do nothing more than crowd out misinformation found in print or online, doctors say bibliotherapy justifies the cost of the book.

The Reading Agency has also suggested some fiction and poetry titles for patients with specific mental health conditions, although the group cautions that its recommendations are nominated by reading groups and not tested by scientists.

“I don’t think we could claim that they are therapy or a substitute for therapy,” said Judith Shipman, who oversees the group’s Mood-Boosting Books program. “But for those who don’t quite need therapy, Mood-Boosting Books could be a nice little lift.”

[Image: Depression via Shutterstock]

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