A variety of complementary therapies may be integrated with standard medical care to treat the whole person. Bibliotherapy, also known as poetry therapy, is one such modality that can help improve the quality of life of people with cancer. It involves the use of language and story to promote health and healing, and includes reading and responding to literature of all genres, song lyrics, and poetry. Cinematherapy, the use of movies and film in therapeutic ways, is an outgrowth of bibliotherapy. Journaling and expressive writing also fall under the umbrella of bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative coping in people facing a cancer diagnosis.1 Books can provide much-appreciated respite by creating a safe place to escape to or serving as a positive distraction. Books can provide information, comfort, and insight.
Cancer-centered book clubs — both in person and virtual — can be found throughout the United States. They provide a setting for patients with cancer in treatment or posttreatment to connect with others sharing a similar experience while focusing on a noncancer related shared interest. Some examples are Cactus Cancer Society’s book club for young adults, Surviving Breast Cancer’s Breast Cancer Book Club, and the Above + Beyond Cancer Book Club.
Making books available during treatment or providing book recommendations are doable ways to share the benefits of bibliotherapy with patients. The following recommendations include titles that are cancer-specific and/or address themes such as transition, loss, and self-reflection.
- Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad (Random House), a cancer-specific memoir
- The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr Edith Eva Eger (Scribner), a memoir
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, PhD (Willliam Morrow Paperbacks), a self-help book
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala), a self-help book
- Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD (Riverhead Books), short stories
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Viking), fantasy
Emerging evidence suggests that movie-watching may have a positive effect on the well-being of people with cancer. Movie watching can provide a positive distraction by engaging patients in a pleasurable experience that stimulates focused concentration.2 Movies can also provide humor, inspiration, and the comfort of nostalgia. Movie watching during chemotherapy treatment can result in fewer treatment side effects.3
Journaling and expressive writing can provide a safe way for people with cancer to express and process difficult emotions. Creating a written record also allows patients to become the authors of their own narratives.4 Expressive writing about the cancer experience can result in decreased pain.5 Writing about positive or valued aspects of one’s life has been linked to a decrease in physical symptoms in people with cancer.6
The following books provide helpful information and prompts for expressive writing.
- Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth by Kathleen Adams, MA (Grand Central Publishing)
- The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself by Lucia Capacchione (Swallow Press)
- Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise Desalvo (Beacon Press)
- The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss by Sandra Marinella, MA, MEd (New World Library)
- Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain, by James W. Pennebaker, PhD, and Joshua M. Smyth, PhD (The Guilford Press)
Support Resource and Programs
CancerCare is a source of support resources and programs for patients with cancer and their families. A book club and a movie discussion group for older adults in treatment or posttreatment for cancer are available through CancerCare. Selected materials are widely available at public libraries and have broad-based appeal with a focus on universal themes such as family, difficult choices, and navigating the unexpected. Group discussions are facilitated by social workers, and participants are invited to share insights and personal connections to the discussion.
The organization also offers an online therapeutic writing group, Healing with Words. Its message board is moderated by social workers, who provide weekly reading assignments and prompts.
To refer patients to CancerCare programs, encourage them to visit www.cancercare.org.
- Malibiran R, Tariman JD, Amer K. Bibliotherapy: appraisal of evidence for patients diagnosed with cancer. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2018;22(4):377-380. doi:10.1188/18.cjon.377-380
- Niemiec RM. Character strengths cinematherapy: using movies to inspire change, meaning, and cinematic elevation. J Clin Psychol. 2020;76(8):1447-1462. doi:10.1002/jclp.22997
- Pils S, Ott J, Reinthaller A, Steiner E, Springer S, Ristl R. Effect of viewing Disney movies during chemotherapy on self-reported quality of life among patients with gynecologic cancer: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(5):e204568. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.4568
- Craft MA, Davis GC, Paulson RM. Expressive writing in early breast cancer survivors. J Adv Nurs. 2013;69(2):305-315. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06008.x
- Rosenberg HJ, Rosenberg SD, Ernstoff MS, et al. Expressive disclosure and health outcomes in a prostate cancer population. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2002;32(1):37-53. doi:10.2190/AGPF-VB1G-U82E-AE8C
- Creswell JD, Lam S, Stanton AL, Taylor SE, Bower JE, Sherman DK. Does self-affirmation, cognitive processing, or discovery of meaning explain cancer-related health benefits of expressive writing? Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2007;33(2):238-250.