Leave Early when the Fire Danger Rating is Extreme or Catastrophic. Download the VicEmergency app and check the Fire Danger Rating daily.

Home > Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

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, Dr 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

Season 2

Episode 1 – Going out into the community

Medical experts are saying that agoraphobia – commonly known as the fear of leaving home – is impacting many people as a result of the pandemic. This episode asks how we feel about leaving home and being in situations we can’t control.

Content warning: this episode features a story and a poem which explore mental illness, including anxiety and depression.

  • Rhiannon Raphael, Why I didn’t leave the house this week, [Untitled] issue: eight, Busybird Publishing, 2019
  • Anonymous, ‘Poem from someone who suffers from Agoraphobia’, published on the Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria’s website.

Episode 2 – Routine

A common coping strategy for many people is to incorporate a routine to try to control our experiences. This episode helps us to reflect on our own coping strategies.

Content warning: this episode features a story which explores suicide, death, loss and grief.

  • Mat Ward, Routine, [Untitled] issue: eight, Busybird Publishing, 2019
  • Robert Frost ‘The road not taken’, Mountain interval, published by Henry Holt, 1916.

Episode 3 – Foundations

This podcast episode explores ethics and values, the foundations on which we base our lives. It asks us to consider the set of rules we use for adult living.

This episode features two readings:

  • Cate Kennedy, Puppet show, The best Australian stories 2015, Black Inc., 2015
  • Rudyard Kipling, ‘If’, Rewards and fairies, 1910.

Episode 4 – Blending in

One of our most vital human needs is to feel accepted. This episode reflects on how some of us may change who we are to fit in and feel accepted.

This episode features two readings:

  • Elizabeth Flux, One’s company, The best Australian stories 2017, Black Inc., 2017
  • Jenny Joseph, ‘Warning’, Warning: when I am an old woman I shall wear purple, Profile Books, 1997.

Episode 5 – Believing in ourselves

In this episode, we explore what happens to us when we let others’ expectations of us define success and failure. It encourages us to think about both the physical and emotional aspects of living our lives based on other people’s expectations.

This episode features two readings:

  • Sheryl Gwyther, Dance of the Lascaux ponies, Touchdown Magazine, Vol 104, No. 6, July 2019
  • Naomi Shihab Nye, ‘How to paint a donkey’, Everything comes next: collected and new poems. Copyright 2020 by Naomi Shihab Nye, used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Episode 6 – Being our true selves

Following on from the last episode on believing in ourselves, we explore unlearning the tendency to base our lives on others' expectations and regain our true sense of self. In the last episode of the series, bibliotherapist Dr Susan McLaine asks us what we need to make our hearts swell with joy.

This episode features two readings:

  • Blaise van Hecke, Enid Blyton has a lot to answer for, The road to Tralfamadore is bathed in river water: stories from a gypsy childhood, Busybird Publishing, 2018
  • Charlotte Mew, 'The call', The rambling sailor, 1929

Season 1

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:

  • Dr 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 Dr Susan McLaine

Dr 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. 

In June 2021 Susan was awarded a PhD from RMIT University for her thesis in bibliotherapy.

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 [email protected].

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.