Doctors Are Prescribing Books

Leah Price has written a piece in the Boston Globe about how some doctors in Britain are prescribing books for their mental health patients. The National Health Service set up a program called Books on Prescription, which is just the latest example of a new wave of “bibliotherapy.”

The School of Life, founded by Alain de Botton and Sophie Horwarth, employees philosophers, artists, writers, literary critics and others who offer workshops and classes, focussing on how books can help all of us address basic problems of life.

Indeed, some studies have been conducted which suggest that the written word may promise mental health benefits. Price:

As early as 1997, a randomized trial found bibliotherapy supervised by therapists no less effective in treating unipolar depression than individual or group therapy. More surprisingly, a 2007 literature review by the same researcher found that books treated anxiety just as effectively without a therapist’s guidance as with it. A 2004 meta-analysis comparing bibliotherapy for anxiety and depression to short-term talk therapy found books “as effective as professional treatment of relatively short duration.”

In the last analysis, however, Price concludes that books are only this good: they are better than nothing. And nothing is what lots of people are getting with respect to treatment for their mental health issues, for instance, say, depression.