Books Can Help You Heal

by Cheryl Rainfield, the award-winning author of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED, 2003

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.
    — Ursula K. Le Guin

Books are powerful things. They can move us, make us cry, laugh, and feel. They can help us know we are not alone; that we are not the only one who has gone through a trauma or who has a particular problem. They can increase our compassion for ourselves and for others, and show us new solutions to problems. Books can help us release pent up emotions. They can gently nudge us out of stereotypical thinking. And they can help us heal.

With the help of fiction you can learn and understand your own feelings, identify the sources of your anxieties, angers, likes and dislikes. Fiction can reflect for you, like a magic mirror, the veiled parts of your self and your life.

Fiction can help you to reorganize thinking, resolve problems, remember the past when you need to review it and see it differently. In other words, fiction can be a powerful aagent for creative and healthy change.

    — Gold, Joseph, Read For Your Life, Fitzhenry & Whiteside: Ontario,1990. p. 3-4

People have used books to help solve problems as far back as the first libraries in Greece. Some people just choose books that relate to what they’re going through, or that give them a break from hat reality. Others take a much more deliberate, structured approach to using books for healing—an approach that’s called bibliotherapy. As for myself, I’m drawn to books that speak to me—books that address my feelings and memories.

I have always known that I needed books, that they helped me. When I was a child and being abused, books like Anne of Green Gables told me that there were kind people, loving parents or subsitutes for parents that gave gentleness, understanding, and love—and I tucked that knowledge away deep inside me, where I could hold onto it and remind myself some day that I didn’t deserve the abuse I suffered. Other books, like Blubber by Judy Blume, told me that I could go through hard things, painful things, and still survive, and even find some happiness. I needed those books like I needed air to breathe. They helped me survive a lot of trauma.

Fiction can show us new ideas, new ways of looking at things that can help us heal inner wounds, forgive ourselves, or give us something we didn’t even know we needed. Fiction can help us hear things we might not otherwise—if the books are well written, if we become so absorbed in the story that we forget that it’s a story. Fiction can reach us on a level that non-fiction cannot—because through good fiction, we live the life of that character, we learn things as they learn them—and we do not feel that we are being taught or preached to.

Fiction can help us deal with things that scare us, or learn more about things we might be afraid to ask about, or would not seek the answer to. Fiction can provide a safe way to explore experiences we haven’t had. And fiction can give us a break from the stresses of our own lives, while we vicariously live someone else’s.

Books, to me, are a kind of soul food. They can help lift us out of a bad mood, temporarily transport us away from our own troubles, and nurture positive messages inside us—messages that tell us that we matter, that we have the right not to be hurt, and that we need and deserve to have love. There are so many messages that books can say, messages that we need to hear, and we can absorb those messages—and reject ones that don’t feel right to us—without feeling like we’re working at it, or that someone is looking over our shoulder.

So pick up a book today—and don’t feel guilty about it! Reading truly helps us to heal. Allow yourself the pleasure—and the gift—of reading.


  • Gold, Joseph, Read For Your Life, Fitzhenry & Whiteside: Ontario,1990.

Online Resources:



    Fiction Booklists (and some non-fiction) that address different problems or issues:



©Cheryl Rainfield, 2003

Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED

If you like this article, you may post it on your website or use it in your print publication, as long as you provide a link back to my site (, and credit me. I’d also really like to know where you put my article, but you don’t have to let me know in order to use it.