One of the more interesting aspects of the philosophy espoused by Alain de Botton and The School of life was the use of various therapies designed to enrich the lives of people, especially those with a secular view of the world. It seems to me as though this is one of the areas in which atheists and secular minded individuals in general are lacking compared to their religious counterparts. We offer no prescribed readings such as those found in the various religions of the world as we come to our end of days and face, often alone, the prospect of a world continuing on without us. The School of Life aims to fix this problem through the use of bibliotherapy. This type of therapy is known as an expressive therapy because it allows one to heal or improve themselves with their own imagination and creativity. But how can reading in and of itself help someone cope with anything in particular, let alone the prospect of leaving the world permanently? Alain de Botton argues that this can be facilitated by a form of talk therapy with experts such as novelists or librarians that can help point readers towards books that can offer them insight into whatever problem they may be dealing with currently. To me, this seems to do a great service for the many of us that do not agree with the idea of an afterlife beyond the world we leave behind. What better way to learn how to accept and think about our shared doom than through the experience of those, both fictional and real, who have faced death before us? This type of therapy works in a three step process. The first step is known as identification and occurs when a reader notices the similarities between him or herself and a character in the book and decides to identify with the character. The next step is one of catharsis where the reader begins to relate to the character’s thoughts and sentiments. The final step, insight, occurs when the reader comes to discover that the ways in which the character overcame or dealt with issues are applicable to their own life as well. Through this process, people can not only tackle end of life issues such as death and the afterlife, but also daily issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. One study has even shown that bibliotherapy in the form of book clubs for the elderly can help facilitate social interaction and help the elderly come to terms with their ailments. Every survey that the participants returned overwhelmingly praised the value of both the books and the social environment that was created by having people to talk about the various aspects of old age and dying. I feel that in time, programs such as this could really take off as they offer a relatively easy and low cost way to help people in all walks of life deal with the existential dread of dying and a host of other issues that may be afflicting them. In my next post, I will cover the history of bibliotherapy and its potential integration with current forms of psychotherapy.
Here is a video of Alain de Botton discussing bibliotherapy with Big Think