We conduct randomized controlled trials into the efficacy of poetry as a tool for dealing with stress and anxiety. We have recently completed our first two trials, one with university students and one with a very large sample of online learners, using our Stressed Unstressed anthology and other poems. The results are very promising. See the pdf files at the foot of this page: "Poetry for Stress Relief" and "Post-course Trial". Some more general thoughts on the wider clinical value of bibliotherapy are published in our article in The Lancet: "Books do furnish a mind: the art and science of bibliotherapy" (pdf at bottom of this page). Other recent research in the field includes:

Wellbeing benefits of reading

The School of Public Health at Yale has recently produced a superb and very well referenced piece of research on reading and longevity: A. Bavashi, Martin D. Slade, and Becca R. Levy, “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity”: Social Science & Medicine, vol. 164, September 2016, pp. 44–48, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027795361630. There is a pdf at the foot of this page.

Clinical trials of bibliotherapy

R. Moldovan, O. Cobeanu & D. David, “Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild depressive symptomatology: randomized clinical trial of efficacy and mechanisms of change”: Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 2013 Nov-Dec;20(6):482-93. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22941790 and as a pdf at the foot of this page.

  • BACKGROUND: It has been increasingly recognized that subthreshold depression is associated with considerable personal, social and economic costs. However, there is no accepted definition or clear-cut treatment for subthreshold depression. Cognitive bibliotherapy is a promising approach, but further research is necessary in order to assess its clinical efficacy and key mechanisms of change. AIM: This study aimed to investigate the efficacy of bibliotherapy for subthreshold depression and test whether maladaptive cognitions mediate the effects of bibliotherapy on depressive symptoms. METHOD: A total of 96 young adults with subthreshold depression were randomized in one of the following treatment conditions: immediate treatment, delayed treatment, placebo and no treatment. The main outcome was represented by depressive symptoms assessed before, during and immediately after the treatment, as well as at 3-month follow-up. Automatic thoughts, dysfunctional attitudes and irrational beliefs were also assessed throughout the study, and we investigated their involvement as mediators of bibliotherapy effects on depressive symptoms. RESULTS: The results indicated that cognitive bibliotherapy resulted in statistically and clinically significant changes both in depressive symptoms and cognitions, which were maintained at follow-up. In contrast, placebo was only associated with a temporary decrease in depressive symptoms, without significant cognitive changes. No changes in symptoms or cognitions were found in the delayed treatment and no treatment groups. We also found that automatic thoughts significantly mediated the effect of bibliotherapy on depressive symptoms. CONCLUSION: This study provided compelling evidence for the efficacy of cognitive bibliotherapy in subthreshold depression and showed that changes in automatic thoughts mediated the effect of bibliotherapy on depressive symptoms. KEY PRACTITIONER MESSAGE: Cognitive bibliotherapy is an effective treatment of subthreshold depression. Changing automatic thoughts is important, as they mediate the bibliotherapy effect on depressive symptoms. Cognitive bibliotherapy is a potential alternative or adjunct to psychotherapy for mildly depressed adults.

Gregory, Robert J.; Schwer Canning, Sally; Lee, Tracy W.; Wise, Joan C., “Cognitive Bibliotherapy for Depression: A Meta-Analysis”: Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 35(3), Jun 2004, 275-280. http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2004-95164-009

  • ABSTRACT:  The authors report a meta-analysis of 29 outcome studies of cognitive forms of bibliotherapy for depression. Seventeen studies with stronger research designs (pretest-posttest waiting list control group) yielded a respectable effect size of 0.77, considered the best estimate of effect size from this study. This result compares favorably with outcomes from individual psychotherapy. In light of the substantial positive effects associated with bibliotherapy for depression, the authors discuss clinically relevant questions related to the use of cognitive bibliotherapy. These include why practitioners might consider the use of this technique, which individuals can benefit from this approach, and how professionals can structure care.

Reading and empathy

Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley & Jordan B. Peterson, “Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy”: http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Mar%20et%20al%202009_reading%20fiction%20and%20empathy.pdf

  • “Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.”

David Cromer Kidd & Emmanuelle Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind”, Science, 18 Oct 2013, vol. 342, no. 6156, pp. 377-380.

  • “Understanding others' mental state is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterise human society. This skill is known as Theory of Mind. The results of five experiments show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagements with works of art.”

Reading and self-knowledge for young people

Vivian Howard, “The Importance of Pleasure Reading in the Lives of Young Teens: Self-identification, self-construction and self-awareness": http://brbell.blogs.sd73.bc.ca/files/2013/03/Importance-of-Pleasure-Reading.pdf

  • “In their pleasure reading, teens gain significant insights into mature relationships, personal values, cultural identity, physical safety and security, aesthetic preferences, and understanding of the physical world.”

Reading, health and wellbeing

Hill Strategies, “The Arts & Well-Being in Canada”: http://hillstrategies.com/content/arts-and-individual-well-being-canada

  • “Compared with those who did not read a book in 2010, book readers:
    • Are more likely to report that they have very good or excellent health (54% vs. 44%).
    • Are more likely to report that they have very good or excellent mental health (63% vs. 56%).
    • Are much more likely to volunteer (42% vs. 26%).
    • Are less likely to feel trapped in a daily routine (33% vs. 39%).
    • Are somewhat more likely to report very strong satisfaction with life (61% vs. 57%).”

Julie M. Latchem & Janette Greenhalgh (2014) "The role of reading on the health and well-being of people with neurological conditions: a systematic review," Aging & Mental Health, 18:6, 731-744.

  • “The effect of ‘lone’ reading, reading aloud and shared reading groups on the health and well-being of people with neurological conditions is currently an under-researched area. Although this review reports encouraging results of positive effects, the results should be viewed with caution due to the lack of randomisation, the small numbers of participants involved, and the limited and heterogeneous evidence base.” You can find a pdf of this article at the end of this bibliography.

Reading and dementia

Tiffany Hughes, Chung-Chou H. Chang, Joni Vander Bilt & Mary Ganguli, from “Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia”: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2911991/

  • “Our study showed that being engaged in more reading and hobby activities and spending more time each week reading is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incident dementia.”