Writer: Amapola Española
There are few pleasures as great and simple as reading: you open a book; you get lost in a story; you are changed by it forever. Anything from a small paperback to a heavy hardbound volume has the power to shape a reader’s emotions, beliefs, and even choices.
a concept that has long been studied in library science—seeks to harness that power.
A definition in the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science describes bibliotherapy as the selection of books in a way that is “designed to facilitate the therapy of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance.”
Today, however, bibliotherapy has grown in definition and use. The Association for Bibliotherapy and Applied Literature (ABAL) notes that the concept of simply giving books to hospital patients to help them recuperate stems from the nineteenth-century usage of bibliotherapy. ABAL now recognizes that bibliotherapy can extend to “elementary school teachers using children’s picture books in identity formation, therapists using fiction in personal healing, and palliative caregivers using films to help people explore the fear of death.”
Philippine research on bibliotherapy echoes these findings. Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, M.D., noted in a 2011 lecture for the Philippine Association for Academic and Research Librarians (PAARL) that bibliotherapy can not cope with emotional turmoil, but it can also help individual personality development.
Think of the sage words from the father figure in your favorite book series, or from your favorite heroine, or even from Shakespeare. They are probably quotes that you live by today. The fact that you’ve let your most beloved authors’ words change you is evidence of Dr. Gatmaitan’s observation.
“It’s a process of adaptation familiar to many book-lovers—after all, they’ve been doing it their whole lives.”
Dr. Heidi Barcelo-Makahilig, Ph.D., in her own lecture for PAARL, described the process of bibliotherapy. First is identification, where the reader associates with a character or situation. Second is catharsis, where the reader shares a character’s feelings and motivations.
Finally, there is insight, where the reader uses lessons from the story to deal with situations in his or her own life. It’s a process of adaptation familiar to many
book-lovers—after all, they’ve been doing
it their whole lives.
But PAARL’s research isn’t the only indicator of bibliotherapy here in the Philippines. To see bibliotherapy in action, there’s no better place to look than Books in Bags.
Launched on Sept. 8, 2013—on International Literacy Day, no less—Books in Bags (BiB) is a Cebu-based mobile literacy program for children. Founded by husband-and-wife librarians Joey and Lorna Eguia, who both have Master’s degrees in Library Science, BiB was the realization of the couple’s dream of a mobile library, which fosters three things—healing, inspiration, and transformation.
These three values are essential to BiB. It serves as BiB’s criteria for selecting the reading material it shares with children, and is also the driving force behind the work that they do. They call it H.I.T.
Last year, in response to the Bohol earthquake, BiB initiated H.I.T. storytelling sessions. Families listened to children’s books and Bible stories being read aloud, and were also given the opportunity to tell their own experiences of the quake.
“As we would often put it, readers are leaders.”
Also last year, when Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas, BiB held several storytelling sessions at evacuation centers during and after the storm. This was part of the “psycho-social intervention” for the families who had been displaced by the tragedy.
Co-founder Lorna Eguia relates that after Typhoon Yolanda, the Department of Social Welfare and Development had tasked her to handle a nine-year-old orphan boy from Tacloban. The boy had become silent and withdrawn at the evacuation site, but during the story and play session, became participative, even interacting with other evacuees.
In April and May 2014, BiB held a “Summer Literacy Festival,” reaching out to children through storytelling, workshops, literacy awareness campaigns, and other related events.
The Eguias make a family affair out of BiB, involving their 10-year-old daughter Raine in the projects. “But we also have a group of volunteers who caught our passion and compassion for people, and we are meeting them on a regular basis,” says Lorna, counting the people and organizations now involved in BiB’s work. “There are teachers, mothers, librarians and young people that we are mentoring for our advocacy. We have volunteered for the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. in various storytelling initiatives.”
Yet Lorna sees opportunities for more aspects of society to get involved. For the government, she says, they can “provide programs and funding that will further promote the use of bibliotherapy in every level of studies and social standing.”
Meanwhile, private organizations can “exercise their corporate social responsibility by providing partnerships and activities as avenues for bibliotherapy to be practiced.”
Lorna says further that they recommend using bibliotherapy to rehabilitate after national tragedies, such as the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda. “After meeting the basic needs such as food, water, medicine and shelter, literacy and reading should be the next big thing for the formation of a mentally and emotionally healthy nation,” she says.
“As we would often put it, leaders are readers,” she says. “And since leaders are what this nation needs, and leaders are not born but made, bibliotherapy should obviously be a major consideration to cultivate emotional and mental wellness in children and families.”
Echoing ABAL and Dr. Gatmaitan’s ideas of bibliotherapy as a means of personality development, Lorna says, “Parents can inculcate the love of reading on their children early on. Teachers can follow through in building students’ desire and discipline in reading. The schools… need to improve their reading programs to arrest the declining interest form books among our children.”
Ultimately, Lorna’s insights, the work she and her husband have done through BiB, and even the research of institutions like ABAL and PAARL all show one thing: books can be more than just a private pleasure. With the help of librarians, teachers, parents, ordinary book-lovers, organizations like BiB, and even the government, the sway that stories hold over readers can be harnessed and shared, to great and happy ends.