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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
Some Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic
Here are some more commonly asked questions about 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.
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.
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
Supporting a person’s healing process
Help develop strategies and problem-solving techniques in patients suffering from emotional or relationship difficulties
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
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
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