Although the term bibliotherapy was first coined in 1916, the prescribed use of books to change behaviour and ameliorate human distress has a long history dating back to ancient Greece.
The ancient Greeks were so convinced of the psychological and spiritual importance of literature that they had signs posted over the doors of libraries declaring them to be a 'healing place for the soul'.
In the therapeutic setting, bibliotherapy can comprise of both fictional and non-fictional materials. The Novel Cure, a recently published A-Z of literary remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, traverses 2,000 years of literature, matching much-loved books with ailments.
A good book, according to author Ella Berthoud, can leave people feeling altered in a fundamental way.
The Novel Cure proposes that someone who has lost a job could find solace in Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, while George Eliot's "ruthlessly unsentimental" Middlemarch gets to grips with the dilemma of having married the wrong person.
The idea is that through identification with a character in a story, the reader gains an alternative position from which to view his or her own issues.
By empathising with a character, the reader can undergo a form of catharsis through gaining hope and releasing emotional tension, which can lead to emotional change.
More focused bibliotherapy, favouring non-fiction self-help books in a primary care setting, is a more recent phenomenon and although difficult to quantify, research is already showing its benefits.
A study by the School of Psychology at Trinity College following the launch of the scheme in the north inner-city in 2007 found that bibliotherapy offered a valuable method through which adaptive strategies for recovery could be made widely and easily available.
Bibliotherapy, as a stand-alone treatment during the waiting list period and also as an adjunct to group and individual therapy, allowed mental health services to meet the substantial unmet need for psychological care, concluded the study.
The clients themselves offered a valuable insight into how it had or hadn't worked for them.
"It gave me some insight into my condition that I didn't have before," said one woman.
"You can be proactive, you can take control," said one man.
But others were somewhat more sceptical. "I don't know how much success you would have with (it). There's a lot of people that wouldn't be into reading," said one woman.