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Bibliotherapy is an expressive therapy that uses an individual's relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy.
Bibliotherapy is an old concept in library science. In the US it is documented as being at least 100 years old. The basic concept behind bibliotherapy is that reading is a healing experience. It was applied to both general practice medical care, especially after WWII, because the soldiers had a lot of time on their hands while recuperating. Also, the soldiers felt that reading was healing and helpful. In psychiatric institutions bibliotherapeutic groups flourished during this time. The books kept the patients busy, and they seemed to be good for their general sense of well being for a variety of reasons.
At its most basic, bibliotherapy consists of the selection of reading material, for a client that has relevance to that person's life situation. The idea of bibliotherapy seems to have grown naturally from the human inclination to identify with others through their expressions in literature and art. For instance, a grieving child who reads (or is read to) a story about another child who has lost a parent will naturally feel less alone in the world.
The concept of bibliotherapy has widened over time, such that it now can be used to describe adults reading self-help manuals without therapeutic intervention, or a therapist "prescribing" a movie that might provide needed catharsis to a client. Still, the phrase is most often used in reference to children.
Implementing the therapy
Bibliotherapy can consist solely of reading, or it can be complemented with discussion or play activity. A child might be asked to draw a scene from the book or asked whether commonality is felt with a particular character in the book. The book can be used to draw out a child on a subject (s)he has been hesitant to discuss.
Of necessity, bibliotherapy originally used existing texts. Literature that touched on the particular subject relevant to the child provided the source material. (For example, why is "Romeo & Juliet" usually read in 8th or 9th grade? Romeo is 15, Juliet is 13--students at that age can identify with them.) It is now possible, of course, to find texts targeted to the situation. For instance, many of The Berenstain Bears books seem to have as their sole and explicit purpose the targeting of particular behaviors and situations.
There seems to be a division of opinion as to whether bibliotherapy need take place in a therapeutic environment, with therapists specially trained in bibliotherapy at the far end of the spectrum taking the position that this technique should take place only in their skilled hands for fear of the damage that could be done even by the selection of the wrong text[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Other psychologists see no reason why children can't benefit merely by their parents selecting meaningful reading material[How to reference and link to summary or text].
- The Bibliotherapy Education Project. Assists practitioners in the use of bibliotherapy while also promoting its use by readers and parents. A bibliotherapy booklist is part of the site as well.
- Bibliotherapy with a focus on teachers, The Behavior Advisor.
- Guide for parents to write simple, targeted bibliotherapy for their own children.
- More extensive overview on therapist use of bibliotherapy, The International Child and Youth Care Network
- An extensive bibliography on bibliotherapy from the Association for Bibliotherapy and Applied Literature (ABAL)
- What Ails Bibliotherapy, Maeve Visser Knoth writes from a librarian's perspective for the Horn Book Magazine
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