What Is Bibliotherapy?

Updated August 18, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Mental Health Concerns Can Impact Our Happiness


If you are an avid book reader and feel that you need support in dealing with mental health issues, then bibliotherapy is something that you should investigate. This is the reading of specific texts to support and help heal issues that you may be going through in your life. If you have ever read a book and felt very connected to its message or feel like you are transported to another place and time when you read, bibliotherapy could be the perfect type of therapy for you.

Definition of Bibliotherapy

Merriam-Webster defines bibliotherapy as "the use of reading materials for help in solving personal problems or for psychiatric therapy."Although you may have never heard of the term before, the idea can be followed back as far as the first libraries in ancient Greece. The term was first used in the early 1900s. Many people may participate in bibliotherapy without even knowing it. If you use reading for therapeutic purposes, you are engaging in bibliotherapy.

Bibliotherapy History

In 1916, Samuel Crothers combined the Greek word for book 'biblion' and healing 'therapeia' to describe "the process in which specific literature, both fiction and non-fiction, was prescribed as medicine for various ailments" (www.wordsthatheal.com.au). During World War I, libraries were set up in veteran's hospitals and bibliotherapy was used to help the intensification of emotional trauma in veterans.

At its beginnings, bibliotherapy was mostly found within hospital and institutional settings. However, once mental health care was deinstitutionalized, it found popularity with a wide range of populations. It was then found in libraries, family medical practices, educational settings, the penal system, psychology, social work, nursing, and various other settings. In all settings, bibliotherapy is used to help people deal with problems that have arisen in their lives.

Bibliotherapy Treatment Options

"Studies show reading as a form of therapy to be useful for the treatment of depression, mild alcohol abuse, anxiety, eating disorders and communication issues" (www.goodtherapy.org). Those who need to be more self-aware, need to boost their self-esteem, are having family-related trials, are grieving, or have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can all benefit from bibliotherapy. In clinical psychology, bibliotherapy is most often used in addition to another type of mental health therapy as it can enhance the healing effects of those therapies. Many people who have used bibliotherapy in conjunction with traditional therapy in mental health settings have felt that it adds another level to their healing.

If you have not yet sought support for any mental health concerns you may be having, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for medical advice diagnosis or treatment.

Types of Bibliotherapy

Therapeutic bibliotherapy can be used in addition to other types of therapy to strengthen the effects of those therapies and offer a non-traditional yet familiar way of dealing with psychological issues.

Mental Health Concerns Can Impact Our Happiness

Prescriptive bibliotherapy is synonymous with the well-known term self-help. Books are suggested to people to help with a specific psychological concern. A self-help book offers information to help the individual modify their thought patterns, feelings, and actions so that they can free themselves from those destructive thoughts, feelings, and actions. This type of bibliotherapy is used in a clinical venue or therapeutic setting.

The Book on Prescription version is a cooperative model whereby health professionals and libraries work together to offer books as a healing method to help support patients. The doctor suggests or "prescribes" a book and the patient takes their book "prescription" to the library where they borrow the book. The doctor and library work together to create a list of suggested books to be available to patients for “medical treatment,”similar to how a pharmacy has medications available for patients.

Creative bibliotherapy is an effective treatment process that involves having a meeting of a group of patients with similar issues along with a qualified facilitator. Stories, poems, and fiction are read to the group, or the group reads aloud together. After the reading, a discussion ensues so that the patients can be involved in an informative conversation. During this time, the patients can hear other opinions and open up to many possibilities that the discussions offer. It is a great time for social interaction.

Developmental bibliotherapy is used in educational venues and youth services facilities, and helps support students with characteristic childhood and adolescent issues, such as puberty, bodily tasks, mental health concerns and general development. Parents can also use bibliotherapy to assist in explaining these developmental stages at home.

Bibliotherapy Professionals

There are trained professionals to assist people with bibliotherapy. The International Federation of Biblio/Poetry Therapy (IFBPT) has established standards for these professionals to practice bibliotherapy. The title is certified poetry therapist, which encompasses bibliotherapy, poetry therapy, and journal therapy. Certifications include:

Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator (CAPF): BS or BA with some psychology experience. They are not certified psychology or psychiatry professionals but are trained to identify individuals who may be in distress and would need a referral to a mental health facilitator. They usually work in a library or educational setting. They can work in a mental health setting if they are supervised by a mental health professional.

Certified Poetry Therapist (CPT)/Registered Poetry Therapist (RPT): This certification entails post-graduate mental health coursework. They can work with individuals with mental health issues independently. Doctors can also get this type of certification.

Book Recommendations

Reading any of the recommended books in no way replaces the skills or support of a trained therapist or counselor. Bibliotherapy aims to provide information and guidance, not medical treatment. These books are listed as resources that may support those who are facing any of the listed issues.


Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions by Russell Brand

The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie

The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking and Started Living by Clare Pooley

Mrs. D is Going Within by Lotta Dann


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Unmedicated: The Four Pillars of Natural Wellness by Madisyn Taylor

Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh

Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen, MD

Bibliotherapy for medical professionals:

Biblio-therapy: Methods and Materials by the American Library Association


An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, MD

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Eating Disorders:

Gaining: The Truth about Life After Eating Disorders by Aimee Liu

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

100 Questions and Answers about Eating Disorders by Carolyn Costin

An Apple a Day: A Memoir of Love and Recovery from Anorexia by Emma Woolf

Family Issues:

7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey

Stress and Coping in Families by Katheryn Maguire

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield


Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry


The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field by Nathaniel Branden

The Gift of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

Love Yourself AsYour Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant

Learning to Love Yourself: Finding Your Self-Worth by Sharon Wegschneider-Cruse


Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver

Declutter Your Mind by S J Scott

Wherever You Go There, You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

How to Find a Bibliotherapist

You may look online for bibliotherapy near you. Since it is a unique, non-traditional type of counseling or therapy, it may take some searching to find someone who is a trained bibliotherapist. A great place to start your search for a bibliotherapist is BetterHelp. By filling out a questionnaire about yourself and the type of counseling you would like, BetterHelp is able to match you with a therapist that meets your needs. Online therapy is a great alternative if travel, location, convenience, or flexible hours are concerns you have about beginning therapy.

Some Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic:

What type of therapy is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is a type of experimental therapy that uses reading and imaginative literature     to aid with self-improvement and self-awareness, cope with depressive symptoms and other mental health concerns, gain insight, decrease perceived stress, and other therapeutic goals.

A 2017 systematic review published in the Clinical Psychology Review aimed to assess the long-term effects of bibliotherapy in the treatment of depression. Researchers concluded that bibliotherapy resulted in decreased depressive symptoms in the long-term. Therefore, they noted that bibliotherapy could have positive impacts in the treatment of other types of serious mental illness.

Bibliotherapy can also be valuable as a therapeutic approach for children and adolescents. In 2009, the book Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibliotherapy (Springer International Publishing) was released, detailing how bibliotherapy can be used in combination with CBT to address aggressive and antisocial behavior patterns in youth.

What is bibliotherapy in the classroom?

In the classroom and other educational settings, bibliotherapy is a type of group therapy that can be used as a therapeutic approach to support good mental health, help with early childhood development, increase self-awareness, and encourage problem-solving. A bibliotherapy education project can include biblio poetry therapy, play therapy, creative writing, storytelling, and more.

How is bibliotherapy done?

Bibliotherapy, sometimes called cognitive bibliotherapy, has been around since the early nineteenth century. This therapeutic process can involve reading self-help materials, imaginative literature such as novels, poems, short stories, and plays to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and the world around us, or to read books prescribed by mental health professionals for a specific purpose, such as divorce, addiction, adoption, or mental health concerns.

Potential benefits of using bibliotherapy include:

  • Increasing compassion and self-acceptance
  • Addressing mood disorders and mental illness
  • Gaining perspective
  • Supporting a person’s healing process
  • Help develop strategies and problem-solving techniques in patients suffering from emotional or relationship difficulties

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