What Is Bibliotherapy And How Can It Help Me?
By Julia Thomas
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
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. Bibliotherapy 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, this 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" (www.merriam-webster.com). 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 this type of therapy without even knowing it. If you use reading for therapeutic purposes, you are engaging in bibliotherapy.
History Of Bibliotherapy
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 was used to help people deal with problems that had arisen in their lives.
Bibliotherapy As Treatment
"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. This type of therapy is most often 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 have felt that it adds another level to their healing.
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.
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.
The Book on Prescription version is a cooperative model whereby doctors and libraries work together to offer books 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, similar to how a pharmacy has medications available for patients.
Creative bibliotherapy 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 helps support students with characteristic childhood and adolescent issues, such as puberty, bodily tasks, and general development. Parents can also use this type of bibliotherapy to assist in explaining these developmental stages at home.
There are professionally trained to assist people with bibliotherapy. The International Federation of Biblio/Poetry Therapy (IFBPT) has established standards for 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.
Reading any of the recommended books in no way replaces the skills or support of a trained therapist or counselor. 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
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
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
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 As Your 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 a bibliotherapist 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.