Reclining Girl Reading A Book, The Sea Beyond by William Etty (1787-1849, Nottingham Castle Museum And Art Gallery (Nottingham, United Kingdom)
Mental health professionals and physicians utilize books and printed material as supplementary to a psychotherapy treatment plan in addition to medication, counseling or behavior modification. Other media such as movies, plays, art or music are also employed in similar therapy. The objective of bibliotherapy is to help the patient become educated about their condition and to understand and accept their need for treatment. The examination of a character’s condition allows the patient to acknowledge and accept their therapist’s methods of treatment, thus providing hope and compliance. Disorders helped through bibliotherapy are depression, social disorders, addictions, trauma and abuse. Society benefits through the cost-effectiveness of this treatment approach.
The practice of reading as a means to healing and a cure for illness can be traced back to 300 BC to a library in Alexandria that displayed the inscription “The Nourishment of the Soul.” Aristotle wrote about the universal value of reading works of tragedy as cathartic and therapeutic because reading aroused “emotions that healed.” Roman hospital workers read physician-prescribed orations to mentally tormented patients. The practice continued into the Middle Ages when doctors appointed citizens to read to prisoners and ill patients. Shakespeare penned “Come, and take choice of all my library and so beguile thy sorrow” in his drama Titus Andronicus. In the 1840s, medical schools began to teach about the act of reading to patients, or having them read on their own, as part of their curriculum. Since libraries were traditionally viewed as service providers to the public, their role progressed into facilitators of bibliotherapy. Educational, correctional and psychiatric institutions also apply bibliotherapy as an augmentation to primary treatment methods.
“We read to know that we are not alone.” C. S. Lewis
Interaction between the reader and the text provides identification, catharsis, and insight when the reader identifies with a character that has a similar disorder. Having the same emotions and experiences as a character in a book allows the reader to realize their condition is not unique, but that other people have felt the same way or lived through the same problems. Catharsis occurs when a reader “lives through” the life of the character, feeling again emotions that were previously overwhelming. Insight into the reader’s life issues and disorders is a crucial element of bibliotherapy, with the gained insight a useful tool for the reader’s healing and a possible cure. In educational settings, reading and discussion of a character that overcomes personal problems can be a valuable learning tool. Social workers may employ the reading of personal and family narratives as an adjunct to talk therapy and behavior counseling. Limitations of the bibliotherapuetic model may be when it is used for elderly populations and those with severe emotional disorders.
Therapists must have the objective of wanting the patient to be guided by the reading to achieve life skills development, personal improvement, and enhanced self-concept. More than simply telling a patient to “read this book”, training and considerable education is necessary to conduct bibliotherapy for treatment or educational purposes. Many universities offer education for those interested in bibliotherapy careers.
Kay Castaneda, M.A. Indiana University
Bibliography for further study
Apodoca, Timothy, et al. “A Pilot Study of Bibliotherapy to Reduce Alcohol Problems in a Hospital Trauma Center.” Journal of Addictions Nursing 18.4 (2007): 167-173. Print.
“Bibliotherapy.” American Library Association. Web. 20 July 2013.
“Bibliotherapy: Tracing the Roots of a Moral Therapy Movement in the United States from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present.” Journal of the Medical Library Association. 101.2 (2013): 89-91.
Dempsey, Ernest. “Pyschotherapist: Reading Good Books Is Therapeutic.” Digital Journal: A Global Digital Media Network. Web. 20 July 2013.
Doll, Beth, and Carol Ann Doll. Bibliotherapy with Young People: Librarians and Mental Health Professionals Working Together. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1997. Print.
Gold, Joseph. The Story Species: Our Life-literature Connection. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002. Print.
Grace, Cathy, and Elizabeth F. Shores. After the Crisis: Using Storybooks to Help Children Cope. Silver Spring, MD: Gryphon House, 2010. Print.
Jones, Eileen H. Bibliotherapy with Bereaved Children: Healing Reading. London: J. Kingsley, 2001. Print.
“Legitimizing Bibliotherapy: Evidence-based Discources in Healthcare.” Journal of Documentation. 68.2 (2012): 185-205. Print.
Maich, Kimberly, and Sharon Kean. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus 1.2 (2004). Web.
Recob, Amy. Bibliotherapy: When Kids Need Books, a Guide for Those in Need of Reassurance. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse, 2008. Print.
Shechtman, Zipora. Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression through Bibliotherapy. New York: Springer, 2009. Print.