Fiction-reading for good or ill: eating disorders, interpretation and the case for creative bibliotherapy research

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Abstract

Compared with self-help bibliotherapy, little is known about the efficacy of creative bibliotherapy or the mechanisms of its possible efficacy for eating disorders or any other mental health condition. It is clear, however, that fiction is widely used informally as a therapeutic or antitherapeutic tool and that it has considerable potential in both directions, with a possibly significant distinction between the effects of reading fiction about eating disorders (which may—contrary to theoretical predictions—be broadly negative in effect) or one’s preferred genre of other fiction (which may be broadly positive). Research on creative bibliotherapy, especially systematic experimental research, is lacking and requires a medical humanities approach, drawing on knowledge and methods from psychology and cognitive literary studies as well as clinical disciplines to expand our understanding of how the dynamic processes of interpretation mediate between textual structures and characteristics of mental health and illness.

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