What are the Therapeutic Benefits of Reading?

Posted by Bijal Shah on

Recently a reader wrote in asking about the benefits of reading and specifically:
  • What are the benefits of reading?
  • What impact does it have on us, in terms of increasing our ability to empathise / heal from past trauma?
  • In what ways can it be therapeutic?

Reading has tremendous benefits beyond therapeutic ones, but I focus on these here, given the questions are focused on reading as therapy:

Q: What are the benefits of reading?

A: Like mindfulness, reading has a plethora of benefits from exercising the mind, deepening empathy, relaxing us and forcing us to slow down, to perhaps even teaching us something. Most importantly, from a bibliotherapy perspective, reading offers us an excellent coping mechanism – especially during difficult times. The right book for a specific situation can reassure us, calm us down and offer healing. Reading also helps us to stay present on the page and words, which like mindfulness, promotes a sense of calm, clarity and peace - particularly during stressful periods.  

Q: What impact does it have on us, in terms of increasing our ability to empathise / heal from past trauma?

A: Reading is more than just voraciously devouring words as we hurriedly rush through the chapters of an engaging J K Rowling book for example. It is the connection that we feel with the characters, the identification with those characters, the sense of comfort and the feeling of being understood. 

A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology confirmed that when people read about an experience the same part of the brain lights up as having experienced it themselves. This suggests that people who read a lot, tend to empathise better with others, and are able to accurately predict what someone else is thinking or feeling.

As Virginia Woolf so aptly put it: "when we read we are in perpetual union with another."

Q: In what ways can it be therapeutic?

A: Whilst reading may also give us a temporary but refreshing escape from the harsh realities of life, it enables short meditative pauses akin to small doses of medicine for daily stresses.

Increasing empathy and self-awareness, reading promotes mental well-being, acting as a catalyst for positive behaviour change, including relief from trauma, anxiety, depression and a multitude of other mental health conditions.

I hope you find those useful and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us - we try to answer each and every one!
You might like our other Q&A posts in our Ask the Bibliotherapist Blog:


If you enjoyed reading this you might find Book Therapy’s online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course helpful. If you’d like to find out more about me, do check out my profile here or drop me an email at bijal@booktherapy.io.

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