Simply stated, bibliotherapy can be defined as the use of books to help people solve problems. Another, more precise definition is that bibliotherapy is a family of technique for structuring interaction between a facilitator and a participant based on mutual sharing of literature (Pardeck, 1989).
The idea of healing through books is not a new one--it can be traced far back in history, from the days of the first libraries in Greece (Bibliotherapy, 1982). The use of books in healing, however, has been interpreted differently by classical scholars, physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, parents, teachers, librarians, and counselors. There is, in fact, confusion in determining the dividing line between reading guidance and bibliotherapy (Smith, 1989). And the vast amount of professional literature that is available on bibliotherapy (Eppele, 1989) naturally mirrors the point of view of the helping professional who wrote it and the field in which he or she is an expert.
In addition, researchers Riordan and Wilson concluded that the explosion of self-help programs during the past decade has contributed to the rise in the use of bibliotherapy, in the form of popular self-help books, such as "What Color Is Your Parachute" and "The Relaxation Response." Books such as these are the prescriptive choice of most mental health professionals for their clients, rather than fiction or poetry, according to the two researchers. Is self-help (even directed self-help) really bibliotherapy? This popular practice underscores the confusion about defining the actual technique of bibliotherapy mentioned at the beginning of this digest.
Before undertaking bibliotherapy, however, a practitioner must remember that it is more than just the casual recommendation of a certain book to an individual--it is a deliberate course of action that requires careful planning (Bibliotherapy, 1982).
In addition, Smith (1989) recommends working with another practitioner or authority in a different field. For example, if you are a language arts teacher, you might collaborate with the school librarian, a guidance counselor, or the school psychologist. This cooperation helps in balancing the process so that no one person is "in charge." Smith also feels that facilitators need to have a light-enough tone in discussing problems so that no one becomes upset, but a thoughtful-enough manner to allow for "comfortable discussion." She also feels that fictional works are best for discussion purposes because participants can talk about the characters in a book rather than about themselves (Smith, 1989). All parties must agree to the bibliotherapy, however. A recent study on generating reading interest in adolescents with handicaps (Klemens, 1993) found that the majority were not even interested in reading novels with handicapped characters. Most of the young people in the survey "seemed to view the term 'handicapped' in a very narrow sense and reject the word and anything to which it may be connected."
Above all, books chosen by the practitioner should have literary merit--a poorly written novel with stereotyped characters and simplistic answers to complex questions is probably worse than not reading anything at all and can even leave children or young people with a negative view of literature. Reading quality literature, however, can be beneficial to students, even outside the context of bibliotherapy (White, 1989). A classroom teacher who really loves literature and who has a large collection of books is in a good position to conduct bibliotherapy, if he or she possesses the other necessary personal qualifications.
A practitioner must also decide whether an individual or a group therapy approach would be best in the particular situation. Individual therapy requires time-consuming one-on-one sessions, but some people feel freer to express themselves in a one-on-one situation.
For a classroom teacher, of course, the classroom could be seen as a natural group, and it would be a group easily broken up into collaborative units. According to Pardeck and Pardeck (1990), groups can be a powerful vehicle for helping to heal emotional problems. The Pardecks believe that a group approach to learning enhances the total child. The group approach allows members to share common experiences, thus lessening anxieties. It can create a feeling of belonging and can also provide security for individuals who might feel uncomfortable in situations where they are singled out for special attention. Working in a group may lead an individual to develop a different perspective and a new understanding of the problems of others (Bibliotherapy, 1982).
Eppele, Ruth (1989). Reading Material Selection: K-12. Focused Access to Selected Topics (FAST) Bibliography No. 30. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. [ED 311 394]
Klemens, Lynne (1993). Are Handicapped Adolescents Interested in Reading Fiction with Handicapped Characters? M.A. Thesis, Kean College. [CS 011 232]
Ouzts, Dan T. (1991). "The Emergence of Bibliotherapy as a Discipline." Reading Horizons, 31(3), 199-206. [EJ 421 220]
Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1990). "Using Developmental Literature with Collaborative Groups." Reading Improvement, 27(4), 226-37. [EJ 421 176]
Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1989). "Bibliotherapy: A Tool for Helping Preschool Children Deal with Developmental Change Related to Family Relationships." Early Child Development and Care, 47, 107-29. [EJ 401 179]
Riordan, Richard J. and Linda S. Wilson (1989). Bibliotherapy: Does It Work?" Journal of Counseling and Development, 67(9). [EJ 396 292]
Smith, Alice G. (1989). "Will the Real Bibliotherapist Please Stand Up?" Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 2(3), 241-49. [EJ 395 489]
White, Richard (1989). Bibliotherapy and the Reluctant Student. [ED 309 390]