Bibliotherapy - the therapeutic use of literature - can help an individual to understand and cope with an illness, or another problem. Riordan and Wilson (1989, pp.506-7) defined it as: "the guided reading of written materials in gaining understanding or solving problems relevant to a person's therapeutic needs".
How can bibliotherapy be beneficial?
- To show an individual that he or she is not the first or only person to encounter such a problem
- To show an individual that there is more than one solution to a problem
- To help a person discuss a problem more freely
- To help an individual plan a constructive course of action to solve a problem
- To develop an individual’s self-concept
- To relive emotional or mental pressure
- To foster an individual’s honest self-appraisal
- To provide a way for a person to find interests outside of self
- To increase an individual's understanding of human behaviour or motivations
- To provide information about problems
- To provide insight into problems
- To stimulate discussion about problems
- To communicate new values and attitudes
- To create an awareness that others have dealt with similar problems
- To provide solutions to problems
"Self help bibliotherapy involves using non-fiction books based on cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help people to understand and change their behaviour" (Brewster 2007, p.6).
This form of bibliotherapy often involves a prescription element, e.g. “Books on Prescription”.
In the UK schemes are typically operated by libraries, often in partnership with health care organizations like the NHS.
The GP Prescriber Model
GP prescribes a self-help title and the book prescription is taken to a local library where the title is stocked. The title is issued as a standard library loan. No further support is offered.
The Supported Self-Help Model
GP/health worker encourages client to make an appointment at a self-help clinic. Clients are offered a self-help consultation, which includes the prescription for a self-help book which can be handed over at the local library. There are follow-up sessions to support treatment and the acquisition of self-help skills. Often these schemes involve primary care mental health workers.
The Self-Help Library Model
This does not contain a prescription element. The public library stocks a selection of self-help titles developed in consultation with service users.
The majority of bibliotherapy schemes currently in operation in the UK are based on a self-help model.
There is ‘no one framework appearing to fit the needs of all who research or practice bibliotherapy’ (Cohen, 1994)
Examples of bibliotherapy schemes:
- Get into Reading
- Books on Prescription
- Reading and You Service
- Books for a Healthy mind
- Read Yourself Well
"While creative bibliotherapy has the same aims as self-help bibliotherapy, it is a much more diverse service" (Brewster 2007, p.7). Uses fiction and non-fiction books.
Hicks (2006) identified two models:
Library Based Bibliotherapy Model
Clients self-refer or are referred by health workers to library based bibliotherapists (e.g. trained librarians, counsellors, social workers, and teachers). Bibliotherapy takes the form of 1:1 and/or group based 'book chat' sessions.
The Reading Group Model
Clients self-refer or are referred by health workers to reading groups which may be serving a particular client group, e.g. mental health service users and which are usually linked to the public library service.
There are reading groups for people with learning difficulties, alzheimers, motor-neurone disease and mental health problems, as well as for prisoners, excluded teenagers, looked after children and recovering drug-addicts. (Morrison 2008)
Cultural Prozac - Bibliotherapy Prescriptions for Fun
For when you’re feeling blue or just in need of a change, a prescription for happiness - literature that can illuminate and even change your life.
Brewster, E.A. (2007). 'Medicine for the Soul' Bibliotherapy and the Public Library. University of Sheffield MA dissertation.
Cohen, L. (1994). ‘The experience of therapeutic reading’. Western Journal of Nursing Research 16 (4), 426-437.
Department of Health (2001). The expert patient: A new approach to chronic disease management for the 21st century. London.
Department of Health (2008). Choice matters - working with libraries. London.
Department of Health (2009). New Horizons: A shared vision for mental health. London -
Hicks, D., Creaser, C., Greenwood, H., Spezi, V., White, S. & Frude, N. (2010). Public library activity in the areas of health and well-being: final report. London: Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.