The Impact of Words: How Reading Can Work as Therapy

I once started to read, quite heavily, as a means to escape some pain. I had just gone through a bad breakup and was filled with depression and ache. In an attempt to find a way to heal, I searched the web for a solution.

At first, I encountering a lot of misinformation. But eventually I found a few useful articles; and I could tell by the way they approached human nature. The bullshit advice was cynical and hacky, but the good advice was compassionate and real. (My favorite site was psychologytoday.com).

Through reading I became educated. The articles I read helped me understand myself and how to best deal with my situation. The words had a healing effect on me; and not only that, they improved me. My perspective of the world changed and my psyche expanded.

That’s the power of words.

Transformation Through Words

When you see a word, you might not think of its therapeutic powers. It’s a string of letters–squiggly black lines of different shapes–put together in a certain way. However, a word is much more than just that. You’re able to understand it; interpret it.

A single word has meaning (or else it would’t be a word). It contains some sort of information that your brain are able to interpret and understand. When several words are put together, they make up sentences, paragraphs, pages and entire books that can make an explanation of something.

This is the process of learning, the starting point therapy. And if you’re going to experience a therapeutic effect of any kind, then you have to learn something–about yourself, your situation and the world.

Bibliotherapy

Through learning, you incorporate new information into your neural networks–your mental models of seeing reality. And with more information you have more tools; and you can better deal with whatever that is bothering you.

It’s when the mental models are lacking that true mental distress occurs. Because what is initially, and naturally painful about some event–heartbreak, the loss of a family member, etc.–gets even worse when you don’t have the necessary information on how to deal with it.

You see, when your brain doesn’t know how to handle something, it experiences distress because of the unknown nature of the pain. The unknown is a big cloud of potentially everything; and when it can’t be interpreted, it can’t be disarmed.

But when you know what it is, on the other hand, you can better choose how to deal with it. You pinpoint it down to a speck of dust, and you show yourself that it’s something to overcome.

Once you know what it is, you can re-frame your problem in a more positive light, see it’s underlying value, or how it’s going to make you stronger. Besides, just the fact that your brain knows what is going on, makes the problem dissolve over time.

Reading helps. When you’re exposed to new information, new perspectives and new solutions, you can change the structure of your brain. That’s the power of words.

Good Advice

Here’s a list of pages where you can (usually) find some good advice:

  • Psychologytoday – Psychology. Everything from mental illnesses to personal development and practical tools.
  • PsychCentral – Psychology. Psychological tools for mental distress and better well-being.
  • Simplypsychology – Psychology. Research and educational; explanations of well-known theories and concepts.
  • Mindtools – Career development. Topics of psychology, productivity, leadership, team-management and personal development.
  • Harvard Health – Health research. Psychology, medicine, neuroscience.
  • Gottman – Relationships. The psychology and best practices of quality relationships.

 

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