A unique book club in Mumbai is helping people focus on their mental health but in a non-threatening setting.
Awareness about mental health issues is on the rise, and people are quickly realising that one’s emotional and psychological well-being are just as important as one’s physical health. ‘Bibliotherapy’, a unique book club in Mumbai, is helping people focus on their mental health, but in a fun, non-threatening setting. Started by therapist-in-the-making, Sneha Rawlani and Apurupa Vatsalya, a lawyer-turned-sexuality educator, the idea to start such a book club was born out of a chat shared between the two.
“We were bonding over our mental health journeys and our experiences with therapy, and we happened to speak specifically about bibliotherapy — which is an actual tool/medium that exists in therapy. It makes use of books to treat psychological and mental disorders. We wanted to share this underrated medium, our professional knowledge and personal experience, with other mental health enthusiasts through the book club,” says Sneha.
Sneha explains that though books play an integral role in ‘Bibliotherapy’, too, it isn’t your average book club, because it also incorporates elements of the support group model. “Also, along with a structured discussion of concepts in the books, we intersperse exercises that are related to those concepts and based on therapeutic techniques so that it becomes easier to put these concepts into practice,” she says.
Hence, a typical ‘Bibliotherapy’ session is divided into two parts — the first involves reading and analysing a book and the second is dedicated to discussions. Apurupa sheds more light on the structure of the session.
“The first modality has participants reading a self-help book, analysing theories for self-exploration and learning how to put the theory into practice. The books don’t always make sense in the context of one’s personal circumstances or one might disagree with certain ideas, so this is also a space to critique and make meaning out of information in the books. The second is about sharing and reflecting on personal experiences within a supportive community. Having a strong support system and sense of community has been shown to be integral to good mental health, and ‘Bibliotherapy’ provides this setting,” says Apurupa.
Though people are skeptical about self-help books, the founders believe that they are actually quite useful. “Self-help books can be quite overwhelming or intimidating – which is also why they sometimes have a bad reputation and come off as too preachy. However, we believe in the cause of emotional education and we choose self-help and mental health-related books that are accessible in terms of knowledge and language,” she discloses.
But the duo reveals that they make it quite clear through all their communication that ‘Bibliotherapy’ isn’t a replacement for professional counseling. “The discussions are grounded in the books, and while there is room for personal sharing, only a portion of the discussions consist of that and only in context of the books. Also, we make ourselves accessible should someone require further support and provide them with information, resources and contacts if they choose to seek formal therapy,” says Apurupa.
The founders will be holding their next meet-up on August 10 and the book of choice is Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. They will also be collaborating with Sanskaari Girls Book Club, the South Asian Feminist book club, for this meet. “We believe that mental health is a feminist issue and in the context of this book, women’s anger has historically been pathologized. It is important for us to reclaim this narrative in this day and age,” concludes Sneha.