Bibliotherapy: Origin, Types and Process


The embrace of bookshelves, the scent of well-worn pages, a story begins, a philosophy encounters, a learning for life embarks—books. With each opening page, a gateway to many experiences unfolds. Many times, pages of books provide a sanctuary that imbibes us with many profound personal transformations and insights. When the literature has the potential to transcend the pathway to healing, self-discovery, and growth, it becomes a therapy for many which is called Bibliotherapy. This article takes you through the various aspects of bibliotherapy.

Origin and Evolution

Though it is believed that bibliotherapy is a new concept, it is found that it has a long history and traces back to ancient times. It has been found that the ancient Greeks used pieces of literature as a means of bringing in emotions while playing stage dramas. Bibliotherapy did get a breakthrough and gained popularity during the Second World War. Eventually, it gradually developed into a therapeutic intervention. Though books have been used as a healing tool since the ancient Middle Ages, the term bibliotherapy was coined by Samuel McChord Crothers in the 20th century. The word has its origins in ancient Greek literature.

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What is Bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy has rather many definitions. The word bibliotherapy comes from two Greek words: Biblio- meaning book, and therapies, meaning intervention or healing mechanism. According to Webster’s Dictionary, bibliotherapy can be defined as follows: “the use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuvants in medicine and psychiatry; guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading” (Babock, 1961, p. 212). Put together, it can simply be defined as the use of literature as a means of solving or preventing problems. It is also referred to as Biblio guidance or Biblio counselling Literature therapy or Reading therapy.

Understanding Book as a Therapeutic Tool

Bibliotherapy sheds light on the untold or uncovered psychological mechanisms. Reading helps individuals on catharsis- venting out or purging of emotional tensions the individual has been holding on to since. It also helps foster empathy and serves as a tool in discovering one’s own pathway or emotional state.

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Types of Bibliotherapy

There are very many approaches to bibliotherapy. It is something tailored to individuals as well as to their mental health conditions and needs. The major types of bibliotherapy include:

  1. Prescriptive Bibliotherapy: This approach involves therapists prescribing explicit books or genres based on the individual’s needs and challenges. This will address specific issues concerned with the individual. The books concerned here are mostly non-fictional and can be carried out at home as a self-help mechanism or with professional care.
  2. Creative Bibliotherapy: This approach most often happens in a group setting. This involves reading stories, poems, and fictional readings as discussed by the group. This all together involves both the utilization of literature and expressive writing as a means to explore and communicate the emotions the individual has been going through.
  3. Developmental Bibliotherapy: This approach is for the younger audience, especially children and adolescents. This methodology will provide age-appropriate book or literature recommendations that will help with the social, emotional, and developmental problems or issues concerned with children. This mainly involves fictional reads where storytelling helps the children alleviate challenges or issues concerned. Also involved in developing resilience.
  4. Therapeutic Bibliotherapy: Used with other therapeutic interventions for the treatment and management of various psychological or mental health issues.
  5. Biblio-poetry: Concerned with poetic works of literature for self-discovery and healing. The therapist might also encourage the individuals to write poetry as a form of processing emotions
  1. Digital bibliotherapy: This involves the exploration and use of audiobooks, digital media, or any other online platform as a means of therapeutic intervention. From among these, Clinical bibliotherapy is widely used among mental health practitioners where they address emotional and behavioural issues while Developmental Bibliotherapy is used widely among educators, and literary workers, which would facilitate proper developmental transitions among students.

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Any therapy undergoes a step-by-step process. So is Bibliotherapy, which might differ from therapist to therapist, while the core remains the same. It mainly has three major steps which include:

  • Identification of involvement: The beginner stage that involves identifying if the individual would get through Bibliotherapy by analyzing their interest. After knowing that, the therapist would suggest them with book recommendations. The therapist would analyse them with them sharing the experience gained from the book reading. The therapist would ask them about the characters in the case of fictional reads while talking about the turning points in the case of non-fictional reads.
  • Catharsis: this involves the release of tension or emotion and the subjects would get into understanding of what they have been going through. The subject gets more awareness of what they’ve gone through.
  • Insight: the final stage is where the individual puts together everything into action. They gain insight by analyzing their problem with a problem similar to fiction or non-fiction. This would help them gain strategies and make them easy to perform.

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Psychological Impact of Reading

It is a very natural feeling for people to remain overwhelmed, lost, or lonely when people are going through any challenge or change in their lives. In those times, literary works like fiction or non-fiction would help them gain awareness and understanding. Fiction or non-fiction- these would help release the pent emotions.

Bibliotherapy does have one of many benefits that include: the reduction of negative emotions, and enhancement of positive feelings and experiences. Also promotes problem-solving and coping strategies, helps increase self-compassion, understanding empathy, and gaining insight about oneself. This therapy can be applied as an individual approach as well as a group.

Bibliotherapy and Mental Health Conditions

Research has found that bibliotherapy is effective in certain mental; health conditions like

Counsellors or therapists use bibliotherapy as a means of therapeutic intervention. It can be structured or unstructured, directive or non-directive, and more facilitated or less facilitated. Bibliotherapy can stand as the profound connection between literature and well-being. As we go through many complex natures of life in the coming days, reading books can help to gain awareness about one’s nature, feelings, and behaviour and engage one in a transformative journey. Thus, words prove that they have healing power and also nurture individuals.

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