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Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

What is bibliotherapy?

Put simply, the word ‘bibliotherapy’ is derived from the Greek words for book, biblio and healing, therapeia.

But in a more expansive sense, the word describes an age-old practice of book therapy.

Where the healing power of literature nourishes and comforts us during challenging times.

When poems and stories, read aloud, open a space for us to dwell quietly away from the noise outside.

How texts help us find a way to explore feelings deep within us – and offer potent opportunities for self-exploration and positive change. 

‘People forget that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult situation that gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.’ This single sentence from Victor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning still speaks strongly to us after 74 years, for good reason.

How to take part in Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria is a free, facilitated self-reflective approach, using stories and poems read aloud over a series of podcasts, to give everyone access to literature's healing power.

Bibliotherapy is presented by practising bibliotherapist, Susan McLaine. All the texts are suitable for a mature general listening audience and each episode is accompanied by a suggested action for you, the listener, to try.

You might like to include Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria as part of your self-care routine. If you do, here are some tips to get the most out of each podcast:

        • Be willing to embrace the experience of being read aloud to.
        • The story and poem are read slowly ... savour the words, let yourself absorb their meaning and the images they convey.
        • Try to resist the temptation to do anything else while you are listening. Give the words your complete attention and suspend your judgement.
        • Notice any feelings that come up for you. You might like to keep a notepad close by to make notes.
        • Take some time to consider your current situation from different perspectives.
        • Relax. Enjoy these stories and poems: they are for you.

Listen to Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

Catch every episode without effort – subscribe to Bibliotherapy on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts

Episode 1 – Reality

In this first episode we consider the universal experience we're sharing, as well as our unique experiences and different reactions to this new reality. This episode features two readings:

  • Simon Howard 'Sonnet', published on his personal blog Walking in the ceiling.
  • William Ernest Henley 'Invictus', A book of verses, 1888.

Episode 2 – Press pause

It's helpful to 'press pause' in a time that's challenging for many of us. In episode 2, we allow the healing power of literature to provide a mental, emotional and spiritual break. This episode features two readings:

  • Susan McLaine 'The gift of space' adapted from 'The other room' by Rob Parkinson, Transforming tales: how stories can change people, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009
  • Cate Kennedy 'Quiet', The taste of river water, Scribe Publications, 2011

Episode 3 – Reflect

In 'Reflect', Susan shares literature to help us reflect on what's emerging from the current crisis – both within each of us and in all of us. This episode features two readings:

  • Leo Tolstoy 'Three questions', What men live by and other tales, 1885
  • Charlotte Mew 'The call', The rambling sailor, 1929 

Episode 4 – Letting go and letting come

Challenges have two sides: the things we need to let go of, in order to better face the challenge, and things we need to let in, so we can make a better life for ourselves on the other side. This episode has two readings:

  • Rumi 'The guest house', The essential Rumi, 1273
  • Anonymous 'Missed connection', CraigsList, 2013

Episode 5 – Harmony

Susan shares the healing power of literature to explore the concept of harmony in the home. This episode features two readings:

  • William Blake 'A poison tree', Songs of experience, 1794
  • Liliane Grace 'The exalted rhythm', Untitled, issue three, Busybird Publishing & Design, 2010

Episode 6 – Connection

Lockdown has changed how we socialise, but most people will feel the need to connect during this pandemic. In episode 6, Susan shares poems to help us think about deep connection. This episode features two readings:

  • Joanne Harris 'Tea with the birds', Any girl can be a CandyKiss Girl!/Tea with the birds/The G-SUS gene (Storycuts) © Joanne Harris. Reproduced by permission of the Estate c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN
  • Naomi Shihab Nye ‘Kindness’, Words under the words: Selected poems, Far Corner Books, 1995

Episode 7 – Community

The common experience we’re sharing is redefining, and possibly revitalising, the very meaning of community. Susan asks if this pandemic may bring people closer and shares two readings:

  • Tim Winton ‘Neighbours’, Scission, Penguin, 1998
  • Cate Kennedy ‘8 x 10 colour enlargements $16.50’, The taste of river water, Scribe Publications, 2011

Episode 8 – We're all in this together

Coronavirus has no boundaries or sense of social justice. We are all in this together, and we come into the situation with different challenges, strengths, skills and wisdom. Susan shares texts to explore how we can unite to help each other with our challenges. This episode features two readings:

  • Peter Jeppesen ‘The honour of mateship’ (unpublished)
  • John Donne ‘No man is an island’, Meditation 17 in Devotions upon emergent occasions, 1624

Episode 9 – Our generation

The global health crisis may define the next generation. In this final episode, Susan asks: 'what do we want historians in 100 years time to say about our generation?' This episode features one reading:

About Susan McLaine

Susan McLaine works at State Library Victoria and is a practising bibliotherapist. For more than 12 years she has researched, written and spoken about bibliotherapy, in Australia and internationally. 

Find out more about Susan and her bibliotherapy work at Words that heal.

Get in touch

If you'd like to contact Susan with your Bibliotherapy-related requests or inquiries, please email

Bibliotherapy for kids

You’re never too young to experience the healing power of stories! Join Susan for two special kids' episodes of Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria.

These episodes explore concepts that are suitable for children of any age with a parent or carer present to offer guidance.

Listen to Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria for kids.