BIBLIOTHERAPY AND BEYOND
By Jill Squyres, Ph.D.
I grew up in a house filled with books but you wouldn’t know it by our behavior at the breakfast table. In most families I knew, the kids would bicker over who got the PRIZE in the cereal box. In our family, my siblings and I would squabble over who got to READ the cereal box! The CEREAL BOX? The ad executives who design cereal boxes know they have a captive audience. Even though it was easy to grab a book from the bookcase or a magazine from the living room, we argued over the cereal box, because it was convenient and, I suppose, rather compelling. As the second youngest of 4, I never got to read the choicest cereal box. I am sure those of you with an interest in family dynamics can correctly guess who did.
Those cereal box designers were on to something. As psychologists we should give similar careful consideration to the convenient and compelling reading materials we provide to the clients visiting our offices. Even our doors are rich with opportunity! On one side of a door in my office suite is a sign, which reads, “Exit to Waiting Room.” On the waiting room side of this door, I keep a small blackboard with an ever-changing quote. I originally planned to have a new quote each week. You can tell how busy I am by how often the quote actually changes. I suppose it bodes well that the quote doesn’t change as often as I would like it to. Today it reads: “I can complain that rosebushes have thorns or I can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses”. Finding good quotes for the blackboard has become something of a game. Many of my quotes now come from clients who seem to eagerly anticipate the latest offering. My favorite quote this year came from my teenaged son who proudly announced that he had found the perfect quote for my waiting room. He handed me a small piece of paper on which he had copied: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” These are wise words, particularly when recognized as such by an 18 year old. I promptly featured his quote on my board and it was definitely a hit. When my clients and my children aren’t feeding me quotes, I get them from the following books: “How To Be An Up Person In A Down World”, “The Lift Your Spirits Quote Book” and “8789 Words of Wisdom”, all of which provide a virtually endless supply of excellent material.
A client’s therapeutic experience begins in the waiting room. What they read in your waiting room can make a real difference in their lives. Regrettably, many practitioners give little thought to the reading material presented in their waiting rooms. What a missed opportunity! Think carefully about what messages you want to convey with what you make available. Like the blackboard on the back of the door, I use my office décor to this advantage. In addition to my quote of the week (or weeks as it often turns out), l place framed poetry on the walls. When I was in middle school, the Spencer Gifts store in the local mall had great posters. Tucked amidst the day-glo and black velvet peace signs was a small scroll done in calligraphy on antique style paper called “Desiderata” authored by Max Ehrmann. This little poster hung in my room through college when it finally got so ragged I had to throw it away. I was delighted to find an artfully penned version of this lovely piece when I was starting my practice. I framed it and it hangs in my waiting room. Even clients with no inclination to pick up a magazine have something inspiring to read without having to lift a finger. And they do read it, because they tell me about how much they like it, all the time. Some great sessions have begun with a discussion of the moving messages reflected in this beautiful poem.
Obviously good reading material is not only about what’s hanging on the walls. I provide both books and magazines in my waiting room and I try to have something for everyone. My clients particularly like the following magazines: Oprah, Psychology Today, Scientific American Mind, San Antonio Magazine (which you can get free), More, Money, and a weekly news magazine. Currently that’s Newsweek although Time works equally well. Although maybe it’s more accurate to say, I like these magazines and my clients seem to like them too. I used to get People magazine. Since it’s rather expensive I decided to discontinue my subscription and there were no complaints so I guess nobody missed it. I can’t say People conveyed any messages I particularly want to perpetuate anyway. In addition to magazines, I keep a pile of books stacked on an end table. Periodically, I change some of the books to keep fresh options available. Here are some of the all time favorites: “Take My Advice: Letters To The Next Generation From People Who Know A Thing Or Two” by James Harmon, “The New Yorker Book of Doctor and Psychiatrist Cartoons”, Oprah Magazine’s “Live Your Best Life”, “The Lorax” and “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, Calvin and Hobbs by Bill Watterson (which I “borrowed” from my kids), “On Commitment” by Diane Rehm, “Attitudes of Gratitude in Love” by MS Ryan, “The Peaceful Home” by Alice Westgate, “What’s The Matter With Harry? The Tale of a 3 Legged Cat” by Cathy Conheim and BJ Gallagher, and “All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome, by Kathy Hoopman. I also have a book of art by M.C. Escher and I just put the book “Powers of 10” by Charles and Ray Eames out on the table. I think it’s a really cool book but I haven’t received any feedback about it so I will probably retire it to my private shelves and try something else.
I will end with a riddle: Q: How is a waiting room like the breakfast table? A: When you are stuck there, you will read just about anything! On behalf of your clients, choose well. Until next time, happy reading!