What Is Bibliotherapy?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated June 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Bibliotherapy work is the reading of specific texts to support and help heal issues that you may be going through in your life. Using literature to build connections and bring focus to areas of concern in your life may be beneficial. 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.
Many people may participate in bibliotherapy without even knowing it. If you use reading for therapeutic purposes such as stress relief or personal reflection, you could be considered to be engaging in bibliotherapy.
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The 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. 

Treatment options

Research has shown that bibliotherapy can have positive results for a variety of mental health concerns. 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) may all benefit from bibliotherapy.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

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.

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. Some of the types of bibliotherapy include:

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  • 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 directed reading and information to help the reader 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, such as at hospital and institution libraries. Mental health professionals working in institutions and libraries may develop a planned reading program designed for a specific emotional disturbance or to encourage psychological catharsis.

  • The Book on Prescription version is a cooperative model whereby a health professional, such as a trained psychotherapist, and librarians work together to offer reading books as a healing method to help support patients as part of the treatment plan. This process occurs by the doctor first suggesting or "prescribing" a book, then 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. In some cases, the reader realizes a particular character may relate to their personal identification and help encourage a sense of connection and rational insight into their experiences and healing process while providing useful coping mechanisms. The solution suggested in the book may be something the patient hadn’t considered and open discussion in their next session.

  • 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, graphic novels, poems, and fiction are read to the group, or the group read the books selected 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. Young people may be recommended a planned reading program designed with children’s literature, while teens and adolescents may use young adult library services. American libraries often offer online dictionary services where therapists and patients can research specific topics. Information science specialists may help the process if a specific topic is of interest. In some cases, patients may find libraries unlimited in their ability to offer novel books and ideas for different topic concerns.

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 three phases of therapy including 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.

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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, which may connect you with many therapists who specialize in bibliotherapy. 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. Beyond that, meta-analysis research has found that online therapy can be just as effective in treating a wide range of mental health conditions as its in-person counterpart, and offer the same level of progress and results in many instances.

Takeaway

Bibliotherapy is the use of books, both fictional and nonfictional, to supplement mental health efforts and promote healing. You can build your own library of self-help books to reference or speak with a professional for guided healing. You can find a bibliotherapist online.

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