Category: Therapy

Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and smell the roses,” as they say. However, the world around us is full of beauty and tranquility which can do wonders for our mental health. In fact, studies are starting to show that taking some time to go outside and experience nature can be therapeutic. Dr. Emily Deans is a board-certified adult psychiatrist who specializes in evolutionary psychiatry and nature therapy. Dr. Dean believes that our bodies and minds fare best in circumstances and environments for which they had evolved. She explains that “one major difference between our current lifestyle and those of our evolutionary past is an increasing distance from natural settings with increased urbanization.”

Modernity vs. Mental Health

While modernity certainly has its perks (better medical and scientific knowledge as well as the convenience of technology) our modern lives can also be responsible for heightened levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Interestingly, in the past, when a person was ill they were usually recommended a holiday or excursion to a quiet, peaceful countryside or seashore. The idea was that by removing the individual from the overwhelming environment of the city, they’d be much more likely to recover from their ailments and restore their spirits. According to Dr. Dean, “the popularity of vacations to beautiful national parks, camping, outward bound, and even local breaks for a picturesque walk in a local greenspace to clear the mind would speak to some empirical evidence that nature does soothe the savage beast.” And she’s not alone in this assumption, as many scientists are now examining the health benefits of nature therapy with more interest than ever before.

Nowadays, more than 50% of people live in urban, modernized areas. This number is estimated to increase to more than 70% by the year 2050. We are far more removed from the natural world around us than our ancestors ever were, and this has come with a number of consequences. This increased urbanization has been associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. Comparatively speaking, those who grew up in more rural settings have been shown to have lower levels of stress. Actually, following a large, 20 year-long study, scientists found that exposure to more greenspace has a more positive effect on an individual’s overall wellbeing. Moreover, even just images and sounds of nature have been shown to decrease levels of stress for individuals who were also exposed to negative stimuli.

A Study in Nature Therapy

Dr. Dean cites a “large survey of mental health and neighborhood greenspace in Wisconsin,” which reveals that there was a “significant correlation between the availability of nature and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress,” as further proof of the existence of this positive relationship. In addition to these studies, there have been many more which have produced similar findings. Dr. Gregory Bratman and his colleagues conducted one such study at Stanford, the results of which have been published. In this particular study, a small group of healthy volunteers were instructed to go for a 5 kilometer walk around the San Francisco Bay area. Half of these participants embarked on a scenic walk viewing the local mountains and bay, whereas the other half walked along the busy streets of the area. The researchers found that the individuals who took the nature walk reported decreased feelings of anxiety, rumination, and other negative feelings. These participants even demonstrated improved performance on cognitive tests when compared with their counterparts who had walked in the city.

Later in the study, the researchers conducted MRIs and measured blood flow in the brain for healthy individuals who went for a 90 minute walk in either a natural or urban setting. They found that those who walked through nature had less activity in an area of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with rumination, which is a symptom of both anxiety and depression, and causes the individual to worry about the same distressing thoughts repetitively.

More Nature, More Peace of Mind

Dr. Dean summarizes these findings thusly: “in a world and environment where our brains are working overtime and we think and roll over ideas and worry, exposure to nature seems to get us out of our heads, with likely positive longitudinal benefits.” So what can we do to maximize our time in nature? Dr. Dean suggests that in our increasingly urbanized world, the creation of more accessible greenspaces can do wonders for our collective mental health. Not to mention, doing so can help preserve the natural beauty of the world around us for generations to come.

Picture of a brain lit up with machine pieces inside of it.

Automatic Thoughts vs. Conscious Thoughts

Beyond our conscious minds is something that is called the automatic mind. This is responsible for processing information automatically, that is, without our conscious awareness. In other words, this is the part of our minds that allows us to understand our surroundings and experiences without us having to focus on things individually. That would be exhausting, not to mention overwhelming!

Automatic minds are active in pretty much everything we do. For example, when we drive, we may be paying attention to the road, but simultaneously thinking about the day’s events. Maybe we’re mulling over a conversation we had with a coworker, or trying to figure out if we left the stove on. This is our automatic mind at work – we’re able to think about our day whilst managing to move our hands on the wheel, our feet on the pedal, and watch the road all at once! When the need arises, however, we can seamlessly shift towards conscious attention. In most cases, we snap out of our unconscious reveries when we realize we’re approaching our exit or need to make a turn to reach our destination.

Understanding the Dynamic – Automatic vs. Conscious Mind

Our thinking can operate on two levels – conscious and unconscious, or automatic. Sigmund Freud was a pioneer in this field and his work examining the unconscious mind is well documented. However, psychology has progressed a long way since then. In Freud’s theories, the unconscious mind was a battlefield where a war waged between instinct, which existed in the dark corner of our minds called the id, and our level-headed problem-solving egos. According to Freud, we developed defense mechanisms like repression, projection, and displacement to protect our conscious minds from this battle within ourselves. This understanding of how the mind works largely influenced the dichotomy between reason and passion that was especially popular in the 20th century.

These days many cognitive psychologists perceive the mind a bit differently.  For example, rather than seeing our unconscious minds as some sort of battlefield full of inner conflict and turmoil, they perceive it as an automatic mind full of sophisticated information. These days, our unconscious mind is more of a processor that sifts through all of our stimuli to allow us to better prioritize and respond to information. In fact, we owe a lot of our daily behaviors to these automatic processes which enable us to act outside of our ordinary awareness.

Introducing the The Mind Trap

Negative thinking can operate on an automatic level. This happens when we find ourselves falling habitually into negative mindsets. Dr. Jeffrey Nevid, Director of the Clinical Psychology program and Professor of Psychology at St. Johns University explains: “when our thinking becomes reflexive or automatic, we suspend our ability to control how we think about our experiences.  We feel angry because we think angering thoughts, sad because we think depressing thoughts, and anxious because we think worrisome thoughts.” Dr. Nevid refers to these automatic negative thoughts as “mind traps,” and they are usually distorted and exaggerated, especially when consciously compared to reality. However, if we don’t point these negative thoughts out, they can continue to harm us unconsciously, leaving an impact on our overall emotional and mental health.

Emotions Cannot Exist in a Vacuum

Dr. Nevid explains that “emotions cannot exist in a thought vacuum any more than fire can exist in an oxygen vacuum.” According to him, our troubling emotions are actually the result of excess meanings which we impose on events we experience. To become aware of these misconceptions, he suggests that we can become better aware of them, and, as a result, we can correct them by inserting rational alternatives instead.

Dr. Nevid provides an example in the form of the teachings of ancient stoic philosopher Epictetus. He says that “we are not influenced by things themselves, but by our opinions or interpretations of things.” It is for this reason that in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) patients are guided by therapists through processes of identifying their triggering thoughts which contribute to their emotional distress. Through this they are then taught to substitute these thoughts with more rational and adaptive modes of thinking.

We can learn to both recognize and correct disruptive thoughts which lead to behavioral problems and emotional turmoil. A rational dialogue with oneself can make a big difference in terms of dealing with troubling emotional effects like anxiety, depression, worry, and anger.

Young friends laying on the grass in a park, having fun.

The Difference Between Good Friendship and Unhealthy Friends

Friends can be one of our strongest support systems. In some cases, friends may even be as close as family. Friends can offer a shoulder to cry on, or words of inspiring wisdom to help us get back on our feet. However, not all friendships are equal. While there are those that allow us to grow and flourish there are others that may be hindering our personal development. Such relationships are toxic and usually lead to more problems than solutions for all those involved. Because of this, it is usually a good idea to take a look at those closest to us and the relationships in our lives and determine which are truly helping us, and which are causing unnecessary pain.

Quality over Quantity – A Lesson in Friendship

Good friendships are ones that are authentic and true. Good friends provide us with intimacy, allowing us to feel free to be ourselves. In a good friendship, we feel as though we are understood, accepted, and appreciated. Through these relationships we feel validated and we know that we are cared for, regardless of what each day may bring. Overall, our friendships can have a strong impact on our well-being, as many previous studies have shown. However, on the other hand, negative personal relationships can cause interpersonal distress. This is one of the biggest reasons that many individuals seek help from a therapist or counselor in the first place. The therapist, then, provides healing through empathetic support and guidance in a trusting relationship. The same relationship the client is lacking with friends.

The Consequences of Bad Friendships

Bad friendships lack genuine caring and can lead to the development of various mental health disorders including depression and anxiety. They can also lead to a lack of confidence in other relationships, thereby resulting in less trust and more conflict. Individuals who have had bad experiences in friendships have been shown to have difficulty establishing and maintaining intimacy or communicating how they feel effectively. Perhaps in their bad friendships, they were frequently shut out or silenced when they tried expressing themselves. This can lead to a residual silence which carries over into other interpersonal connections.

When we come out of a bad relationship, including friendships, we might feel less responsive or willing to talk things through, regardless of their importance to ourselves or those close to us. We may also feel as though our thoughts and opinions don’t matter or that we shouldn’t trouble anyone else. However, expressing oneself is a necessary and healthy part of any relationship, this includes when we’re experiencing negative emotions, so long as we’re not attempting to take those feelings out on others in a destructive manner.

Signs to Look for in Good Friendships

When determining whether or not a friendship is actually good or healthy, there are several questions that come to mind. Below are a list of key characteristics we should be on the lookout for when deciding whether our friendships are actually having a positive impact on our lives, or are causing unwarranted pain and stress.

1. Are They Genuine?

The first and arguably one of the most important things to look out for when it comes to friendships are whether or not the individuals whom we call friends are actually genuine. Friends do not frequently lie to one another. A good, healthy friendship is founded upon openness, honesty, and authenticity. Good friends also make one another a priority rather than a back-up plan. If we feel as though we aren’t valued by certain friends, then it is likely time to seek new friendships that give us the respect and appreciation we truly deserve.

2. Do They Value Me?

Building off of the previous question, good friends make their friends feel valued. In any good relationship, we are loved for who we are, not who we are wanted to be. This goes for friendships as well. Good friends love and respect their friends for their true selves, not some idealized image or desired outcome.

3. Are They Interested?

Yet another highly important question to consider is whether or not one’s friends actually care. True friends are interested in our happiness and success. They want to celebrate with us when things go well, and support us when they don’t. Bad friends, on the other hand, don’t seem to care either way. They also have a tendency to put their perspective above anyone else’s, and are more likely to try to make us see things their way than listen to our own point-of-view.

Can Therapy Help with Friendships?

Therapy can be a good way to regain a sense of trust and support that may be lacking in our personal relationships, but it cannot fix those relationships single-handedly. While our therapist can help guide us on how to communicate effectively with those closest to us, we must ultimately decide on the course of action that will be of the greatest benefit. In some cases, this might mean ending a friendship where we aren’t being valued or respected. Our therapist can help us through this difficult decision-making process and provide the empathetic understanding needed to overcome any personal struggle.

To talk with a Boca Raton therapist about improving friendships and other relationships, call our office to schedule an appointment @ 800-378-9354.


A relaxed business man feeling the joy of accomplishment while walking through a field.

Setting Goals Helps – Here’s How it Works

One of the most important aspects of any positive life journey is setting goals. Learning to set the right goals can sometimes be as difficult as pursuing them. The most effective and successful goals are ones that are well-defined and targeted towards our own self-improvement. It is very important that we set goals that are specific so that we know how to approach them. When we develop goals that are vague, regardless of how they are intended to positively impact our lives, it becomes challenging to make them a reality. After all, we can’t travel unless we determine what path we’re going in. We may change course along the way, or determine new goals during our journey, but the point is that we need to start by having at least some established idea of what we want or the kind of person we aspire to be.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Regardless of context, well-defined goals are essential. This is particularly true in therapy, especially with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. In such sessions, it’s not uncommon for a therapist to ask their patient what their goals are, both short and long-term. When we determine what exactly we want in life, we can then begin to develop strategies to help us attain these goals. The information can also help therapists guide their patients in the most effective manner, by providing advice and support according to what it is they truly want and need.

Therefore, before we embark on any journey of self-improvement, we should first think about and set our goals. What are we trying to accomplish? Why? How important is this goal to us? What will we do to achieve it? And so on. This train of thought encourages honesty and authenticity, both with ourselves and with others.

What Makes a Good Goal?

So what exactly makes a successful goal? Below are three key characteristics of well-defined and attainable goals.

1. Importance

Truly significant goals are ones that are important to us. If we don’t truly care about our goals, the chances that we will actually meet them is minimal at best. Moreover, we should make sure our goals are truly ours. The most effective goals are ones that are personal and not imitative. We should be focused on what we want for ourselves, not what others want for us. When we establish goals that are important to what we want in our lives, we are more motivated and confident in our respective journeys. Dr. Seth Gillihan, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania says that “when we know what we’re aiming for, we work harder, especially if we feel a deep connection with our goals.”

2. Specificity

The most successful goals are ones that are specific. We are more likely to achieve what we want when we know exactly what that is. In other words, we won’t reach a particular destination if we don’t know where we’re going and are instead meandering without direction. When we are specific in setting our goals we can also be more precise in how, when, and why we want to achieve them. We can even work to develop a flexible timeline, so that we have a better idea of when our goals have been met. Dr. Gillihan provides an example of the difference between wanting to “‘exercise more’” versus wanting to “‘exercise 30 minutes 3x/week.’” One is specific and measurable – we know when we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do. By contrast, the other goal is more vague and difficult to measure. What exactly does “more” mean? Once a week? Once a month? The more vague we are with our goals, the less likely we are to truly commit to them.

3. A Good Challenge

A third characteristic of successful goals is that they are appropriately difficult. We shouldn’t shy away from challenge, as long as it’s within reason. Goals with challenge inspire us to be persistent and, in essence, “fight” for what we want. On the other hand, goals that are too easy have a tendency to leave us unmotivated and unwilling to continue pursuit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, goals that are too difficult to attain make us want to give up, rather than continue pursuing them. Dr. Gillihan explains that “there’s a sweet spot in picking the difficulty of our goals. Too easy and we’ll be uninspired, like spinning in a bicycle gear that’s too small; too challenging and we’ll be disheartened, like barely turning over the crank up a massive hill.” Thus, when establishing goals we should aim for moderacy. Just challenging enough to be interesting without being overwhelming or stressful.

Change can only be successfully initiated when we develop an idea of what we want to change or what direction we want to grow in. Goal-setting is therefore essential to any self-improvement journey. Goals are, in essence, aspirations, which offer inspiration throughout any positive transformation.

Elderly woman putting her finger on her head in dismay

Tips for Finding the Right Therapist in Boca

There is a relationship which exists between the patient and the therapist, the strength of which can determine the outcome and overall effectiveness of the treatment itself. Just as with any other relationship, however, some will work out better than others. In other words, just as one might find the right partner, one must also determine who is the right therapist.

Finding the right therapist can be challenging, even with all of the resources available. Even thorough research can lead to some pairings that simply don’t work out. Much like personal relationships, finding a good relationship between patient and therapist can be a process of trial and error. It helps to be informed of what to look for in a therapist and to know exactly what you want out of therapy.

While the fundamentals of clinical treatment are similar, how individual therapists operate can be unique to them and their practice. For example, different therapists may have different methods of administering treatment – such as whether or not they employ pharmaceuticals or holistic alternatives. Other variables can be whether or not they specialize in treating children, adolescents or families. Some therapists may even specialize in practices such as CBT, art or music-integration therapy.

Three Signs Your Current Therapist is Not a Good Match

1. Sessions are Not Something to Look Forward to

A major indicator that things just aren’t working out is that the patient simply isn’t looking forward to sessions with their therapist. Therapy should not be something that is dreaded or treated as a chore. When therapy is working well, the session can feel like the high point of the patient’s week. Sometimes sessions may be slow or dull-feeling, and other times there may be some challenging material covered which can leave one feeling emotionally exhausted. However, patients should never feel negatively about therapy. Even though it can be painful, therapy should feel empowering. Recurring boredom or frustration may be a reason to consult with one’s therapist to suggest a different form of treatment. If nothing changes, then perhaps a different therapist will help.

2. There is No Personal Growth

Another indication that the relationship between patient and therapist may be failing is that sessions of therapy aren’t resulting in any personal growth for the patient. In a good patient-therapist relationship, the therapist can guide their patient towards better choices and healthier thought processes which can benefit them greatly in their day-to-day lives. When treatment is ineffective, one might not observe any positive changes. If there is no improvement in relationships, confidence, or in the management of the problem itself – such as depression or anxiety, then the therapy is most likely not working. This lack of progress can be a major sign that something is simply not clicking, whether it be with the treatment or with the relationship between therapist and patient.

3. Therapy Isn’t Challenging

A good session of therapy can be challenging. There is more to the relationship between therapist and patient than passive listening. Sure, therapists are there to listen to their patient’s problems and needs, but in a good therapeutic relationships the therapist also challenges their patient to confront their choices and make new and better ones. Therapy should inspire positive change, and embolden the patient to believe that they are capable of such progress. Therapy that is too passive and unresponsive is almost never successful. Far from improving, therapy which doesn’t challenge the patient can be boring and can lead to the patient frequently missing sessions or to stop going altogether. For therapy to be the most effective, both therapist and patient must be engaged and actively working towards shared goals. That activity and desire to grow and develop is what motivates necessary change. Without it, there is only stagnation.

Is Therapy Disappointing? Try a Different Therapist!

In every profession there will be people whom we work better with than others, and the same can be said for therapy. If therapy doesn’t seem to be working, sometimes it means that we need to see a different therapist – one who can better accommodate our own unique needs. Hiring a therapist should be approached with the same consideration as one would hire an employee for their company. Evaluating a therapist’s offerings and technique is not unlike looking over a resume to find if an employee is qualified for a position. We must feel free to explore our options before committing ourselves to several sessions with any single therapist. In doing this, we can ensure a greater likelihood that the treatment will succeed. After all, the relationship between therapist and patient should be strong. It is this bond that is crucial to the effectiveness of the therapy itself.

To learn more about our therapists, or to schedule an appointment, call 800-378-9354.
Beautiful paper creations made during art therapy session.

Examine the Benefits of Art Therapy

Often overlooked as a legitimate form of therapeutic treatment, art-making and art therapy can be the creative outlets many individuals need to truly express themselves. Much research has been done on the health benefits of making art, in fact, a recent study conducted by Drs. Girija Kaimal, Juan Muniz, and doctoral student under Kamial, Kendra Ray, proposes that a 45-minute session of art making can significantly reduce cortisol levels in the body. Published in the journal Art Therapy, this 2016 study, aptly titled “Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making,” is one of many which offer similar results suggesting that making art is more than just a fun way to occupy one’s time.

Creating Art Reduces Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is better known as the “stress hormone” as it correlates with our stress levels in our bodies. This includes what has come to be referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response to stressful situations or dangerous events. This study assessed a total of 39 adults, aged 18 to 59, who were asked to make an art piece of their choice. These participants were provided a selection of art materials ranging from clay and collaging materials to felting pens. Prior to this, the participants’ saliva was tested for cortisol levels. They were also given questionnaires before and after their sessions of art-making to acquire additional data relating to their experiences.

What the researchers observed was interesting, to say the least. In short, around 75% of the participants had lower cortisol levels following their session than they did prior to making art. For the 25% of remaining participants, cortisol levels either remained the same or, for a select few, were elevated. The researchers noted that prior experience did not seem to affect the outcome of the study. What this means is that stress reduction was not in any way related to the familiarity of the participants with any of the material or what their skillset was. While further research is needed to offer more concise outcomes, the results of this study and those like it are promising.

Stress is a Whole Body Response

Such studies focus on the collection of what are known as “biomarkers,” or physiological measures of those participating in the study. Commenting on the role of these biomarkers and art therapy research, Drs. Elizabeth Warson and John Lorance explain that “the field of art therapy is rich with opportunities for research that can enhance and validate what is already common knowledge to most art therapists and their clients: that art is life enhancing.” However, they note that what isn’t known is the physiological science behind this relationship, which involves the collection of these biomarkers. They did find, though, that the effect of art therapy on stress extends beyond the role of cortisol. In fact, Warson and Lorance underscore the significance of the roles of the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems in our stress response in their own studies into stress reduction and art-making. Their studies show the effects of coloring an intricate circular design called a mandala, or working through a maze, and the impact of such activities on the body’s cortisol, immune response, salivary alpha-amylase (SAM), and standard anxiety inventory responses. Their preliminary findings reveal that these activities decreased SAM and increased immunity. They also discovered that a variety of factors can impact variations in cortisol levels, such as those observed by Drs. Kaimal, Muniz, and Ray.

Art Therapy as a Relational Approach

Art therapy is often defined as a relational approach. In other words, this means that the role of the professional, in this case the therapist, can play an important role in the overall effectiveness of the treatment. A 2010 study conducted by Latvian researcher Dace Visnola and her colleagues confirms this through their investigation of a specific art therapy protocol that not only examines cortisol levels but also the individual’s perception of stress and and reportable physical changes for the time. This study helps to provide emerging data on the fundamental differences between art-making and art therapy. Their work helped to demonstrate the complexities of stress reduction in clinical practice. In other words, by devising a session of art therapy which included the role of an art therapist, they were able to enact specific interventions designed to facilitate change as well as encourage self-exploration, thought, and emotional expression.

Growing within the Windows of Tolerance

A number of questions remain regarding the quantitative proof of the benefits of art-making on our stress levels, as these extend beyond the production of cortisol. Art therapy, just like any other therapy, is more than just relaxation, but rather involves the setting and attainment of personal goals. However, unlike more conventional therapeutic methods, art therapy allows people to grow within their own personal “windows of tolerance” – an area of emotional activation in which a person can comfortably tolerate, according to art therapist Dr. Cathy Malchiodi.

She explains that “Art therapists, like most psychotherapists, offer what can often be modestly stressful experiences and strategic art-based approaches within the windows of individual tolerance; a little stress is often necessary for all of us in order to learn and achieve goals of behavioral change, emotional repair and resolution, personal and interpersonal growth, resilience and self-efficacy.”

The current outlook on the success of such unique treatments looks promising, as revealed by numerous studies and findings. As such, art therapy becomes on of the many individually-tailored treatment options available to help us progress in our journeys towards greater happiness and health.

Contact our office today to learn more about family therapy in Boca Raton, FL – 800-378-9354
Picture of a pharmacy book with sage in the pages being used for therapy.

Can Reading a Book Work as Therapy?

Books have been a popular method used to escape reality for centuries. It’s not hard to see the allure – books offer worlds that we can transport ourselves to to escape the mundane and often trying demands of our day-to-day lives. But can books be therapeutic? New research suggests that the answer may be yes!

What is Bibliotherapy?

Dr. Jenni Ogden is a psychologist with further postgraduate qualifications in clinical psychology and neuropsychology. She is also a self-professed “book addict” who believes in the healing effects books can potentially have on our psyche. According to her, the idea of reading books as a healing activity isn’t new. In fact, King Ramses II of Egypt had a special chamber where he kept his books. Above the door were inscribed the words “‘House of Healing for the Soul.’” Then later, in the 19th century, famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud frequently incorporated literature into his practice. Dr. Ogden states that: “ Medical professionals and psychologists have been prescribing books for their patients to read for a hundred years or more. But it was more as an adjunct to other treatment rather than a treatment in itself.”

That being said, there is such a thing as “bibliotherapy” – according to a term coined by Samuel Crothers in 1916. Bibliotherapy involves using books to help people solve their personal issues. In the U.S. (and the U.K. soon after), bibliotherapy training programs were established, usually in connection with medical schools and hospitals. Years later, in 2007, philosopher Alain de Botton co-founded the School of Life, located in London, with the goal of helping individuals develop emotional intelligence through culture. This school included a bibliotherapy service which held in-person or remote sessions through Skype or via phone. The purpose of these sessions was to explore one’s relationship with books and the pressures they’re facing in their lives. After uncovering the patient’s problems (whether it be with grief, anger, depression, significant life changes, or so on), the bibliotherapist would then prescribe a list of books that would provide inspiration and enrichment. These books would cater to the individual’s unique set of problems. Among the most commonly prescribed books were philosophy, poetry, and creative nonfiction, though fiction proved to be the most successful.

The Power of Reading Fiction Books

Why is this? Dr. Ogden explains that “research has shown that literary fiction enhances our ability to empathize with others, to put ourselves into another’s shoes; to become more intuitive about other people’s  feelings (as well as our own), and to self-reflect on our problems as we read about and empathize with a fictional character who is facing similar problems.” In essence, when we are emotionally affected by a character, we may actually be responding to how that character connects with ourselves and our true emotional state. This sort of connection means that if the character then finds happiness at the end of the story, we may be more likely to believe that we, too, can find happiness. Characters can be learning vessels from which we learn how to better deal with and respond to our own real life experiences. This can lead to the development of new coping methods that we may have not previously considered without the help of the novel.

Is Reading More Therapeutic than Watching?

But why books? Can’t we get the same results from watching a good film? Dr. Ogden says this isn’t the case. According to her, “A good film may of course also have therapeutic properties, just like a good book, but in general, our minds and our imaginations are more engaged when reading because we need to fill in so much that is not specifically put into words.” In fact, books with too much detail tend to become boring. Part of what makes a good book engrossing is that we are able to engage our imaginations with the author’s. We can place ourselves in the perspective of the character and, in doing this, become a part of the story itself. This level of connection and integration is harder to accomplish with a movie because the movie is far more visually concrete, with actors concretely filling in character parts while we play the role of observer.

Books to Broaden the Mind

Unfortunately, there is one problem that many readers, even professed bibliophiles, fall into, and that is falling into a narrow pattern of reading. When we read for relaxation, we may tend to stick to a certain selection of reading material, and seldom branch from that selection. When a bibliotherapist gets involved, they can find other books that we might not have even known existed. These books can be challenging but stimulating, and as a result we might find new genres and titles that we love. Like any specialist, bibliotherapists are experts in their field, which means that their knowledge of books is both expansive and eclectic, which helps to broaden our horizons. Because of this, bibliotherapy can be an effective alternative treatment to individuals seeking literary guidance through their daily struggles. Books are, after all, a fun means of learning to grow, develop, and lead a life full of happiness and unlimited wonder.

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

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Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

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Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and …