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Monday, March 17, 2014

Q and A about Bibliotherapy from the Author of Tolsoty Therapy

This is for all the people who would like help to find reading material to improve their sense of well-being. Lucy Horner is at your service. The English Literature major born to a farming family in South East England knows firsthand how bibliotherapy or reading therapy combined with professional therapy helped her with her symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her book Tolstoy Therapy: A Fiction Prescription is a resource about literature that can help with depression, anxiety, loneliness, and more. Her definition of bibliotherapy is "the use of skilled writing and fiction to help you through difficult situations, feelings and thought-processes." She recognizes that people may still need professional therapy and medication.

Her goal is to help the reader develop their own bibliotherapy toolkit. Lucy has said in the section of her book explaining the toolkit that she “believes that bibliotherapy is more than simply recommending somebody great books as you need to apply it to your wider life and fit it into your daily routine for the long-term.” Rereading and memorization are important to the regimen.

Horner also continues her fiction prescription at her blog Tolstoy Therapy and also invites readers to share their perspectives of literature that has helped them. In addition, she shares relevant information about the benefits of bibliotherapy. Here is a link to a post.

Dr. Deborah Serani is a best-selling author and practicing psychoanalyst who recommends bibliotherapy to her clients.

As someone who lives with depression, she found bibliotherapy to be empowering. She believes that reading therapy can help people through traumatic experiences.

When I approached Horner, about doing a Q & A, I was not aware that she was launching the web site I also found out that she has a crowdfunding campaign that will end on March 28th regarding social media components. We will discuss this more in the Q &A

I enjoy being able to “pick the brain” of English Lit majors such as Horner and am particularly grateful for the added dimension of conversing with someone who is also involved with Lit therapy. Horner shares her insights in the following Q & A.

Q: I am aware that you have had a successful course of treatment for PTSD. Can you discuss some of what did not work for you personally of the various treatments and which type of treatment worked for you?

A: Of course. I started off with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but it felt too traumatic for me to start off with. Above all, this was due to the emphasis on talking things through. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR therapy) was much more successful in my case, as it simply required me to focus on my feelings while a therapist 'reprogrammed' memories. This involved him asking me questions while I focused my eyes on a moving light, but two other options involve listening to sounds or following the therapist’s hand from side to side. It's quite hard to understand EMDR and see how it could possibly work, but a few months after treatment there was a noticeable difference in my symptoms!

Q: You have discussed how reading Tolstoy has been instrumental in your recovery and that you continue to read Tolstoy during your free time. Can you share any of your feelings about the author and his works?

A: I first read War and Peace as a teenager, and it was precisely what I needed to deal rationally with my anxiety and focus on the beauty and meaning of life instead. Tolstoy is an author, who covers so much ground in his writing, and I’d say that his books are often more like lessons in life than stories. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a guide to living well in the limited time we have left, while War and Peace - Tolstoy's masterpiece - is a book that can perhaps teach us more about life, love and meaning than any other novel could of March so that she can take her new web site to the next level and add

Do you read in a different mode when you are reading for your well-being than you do as an English Major preparing for school work?

A: I try to approach texts I read for my degree with an open mind and a goal to find characters I can relate to, but with time deadlines and assessments this is often difficult! However, if I think a novel I’ve studied deserves more of my attention, I’ll often return to it for pleasure at a later date. One great example of a university text I’ve returned to and absolutely loved is The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

Q: What are some of the benefits of bibliotherapy? Why do you think fiction works well?

A: Artists put their thoughts, fears, memories and dreams down on paper, and there’s little that hasn’t been put in a book before. If we’re feeling a bit depressed, we can find an author - or character - that has experienced similar problems and be reassured that we’re not alone. Fiction can also act as a ‘simulation’ of real life, meaning that we can follow in the footsteps of characters we admire and who we wish to be like. Personally, I approach fiction as if it’s an archive of human experience that I can learn from and apply to my own feelings and problems.

Q: I have had the opportunity to read from your online book where you give your fiction prescriptions. It was very reasonably priced in U.S. Dollars. Is it so reasonably priced in other currencies? Will it continue to be at such an affordable price?

A. Thank you! As my main aim in writing my eBook was to help others apply bibliotherapy to their own lives, I’d like to keep it as affordable as possible. It’s much more of a guide, based on my personal experience and love of reading, than a money-making venture!

Q: You have said that the beauty of poetry and the rhythm of poetry can have a beneficial impact on the reader. I started falling in love with beautiful rhythms several years ago. As you may recall from an earlier exchange, I very much like the ending of Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening". There are scripture versus that really resonate with me. I particularly like the sound of Isiah 50:4 “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” Do you have other suggestions that I might like?”

A: I love the verse you’ve quoted so much, thank you! As with the ending of the Robert Frost poem, I try to memorize lines of poetry that have beautiful rhythms and a calming influence on my emotions. Another great line is by William Blake and goes as so: “The Angel that presided o’er my birth/ Said ‘Little creature, form’d of joy and mirth, / Go, love without the help of anything on earth.’” It’s a great piece of poetry to read and remember that life isn’t all about struggling along and feeling anxious.

Q: I have enjoyed some relationships between a person and a therapist or maybe a mentor in literature and in the movies. One example that comes to mind is from Ordinary People by Judith Guest. Do you have any other suggestions?

A: I also have an interest in such relationships, and I love the example you’ve given. Something I’ve covered quite a lot on Tolstoy Therapy is the teacher-student relationship in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie, the Protagonist, has suffered from trauma and doesn’t quite fit in at school, and his English teacher mentors him and helps him integrate with his classmates (or at least gives him the confidence to do so). A primary way in which the teacher does so is by recommending Charlie great books, which is one of the reasons why I’ve read the novel so many times!

Q: You have a crowdfunding campaign as you are taking your work to the next level. What can you tell us about your future goals? When is the deadline to donate?

A: Yes, I believe that bibliotherapy should be free and accessible to everyone, and for this reason I’ve recently set-up LitTherapy, a website to find book recommendations for all manner of problems and feelings. The reason I’m now crowdfunding is so I can hire a developer to help me make the website more social and interactive (functions to vote books up and down, add books to the site, create your own bibliotherapy plan, etc.) With my student budget, there was only so far I could take the site myself!

My ambitious target is to raise £1000, but even if I don’t reach this amount before the deadline (on March 28 2014), I can use all the money I raise for the project.

Q: You seem very open to suggestions from readers of your blog for books to add to your list. What is a book that was suggested by a reader that has improved your well-being?

A: Yes, I love receiving suggestions from readers! My idea of bibliotherapy involves readers sharing their favorite books so others can discover them too, and I’m hoping to allow this on LitTherapy if the crowfunding is successful. One of my favorite book suggestions I’ve received is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, a superb novel that I know has helped a lot of readers with anxiety, depression, and a desire to find deeper meaning in life. I know it helped me a lot in my own life!

Q: You have said that your symptoms from PTSD are managed and that you prefer to have your symptoms managed but not completely gone. Can you explain this? What is it like living with managed symptoms compared to more severe symptoms?

A: Before my PTSD was diagnosed, I suffered from a lot of nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of high anxiety. I was unsure what was wrong with me, and I often took my confusion out on myself. After my diagnosis I felt less confused, but I still suffered from a lot of panic attacks and disturbed sleep.

My symptoms got a lot worse when I was going through therapy, but in the end - when I found myself having the courage to get out my comfort zone and approach everyday tasks without high levels of anxiety - it was definitely worth it. Nowadays I experience the occasional wobble when my symptoms are triggered, but I feel I can deal with them effectively and not let them take over all aspects of my life as they used to. As my PTSD developed when I was a child, it become almost part of my personality and who I am today, so I wouldn’t want it completely gone, if that makes sense. However, the key to this acceptance is feeling in control of my feelings rather than them controlling me!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I think that’s about it, thank you for thinking of such interesting questions!

Thank you, Lucy Horner for your insights and for your services! From what I have read from Horner’s book, blog and web site, I find her to be very charming and insightful. Her writings are therapeutic in their own right!

-population-we™ blog post by  Barb Bohan
© 2014 population-we, LLC 
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