Bibliotherapy: Helping Students, One Book at a Time

We know from personal experience that books are powerful. Who hasn’t become fully immersed in a novel, empathizing with the characters and gaining new insight into our own lives in the process? As teachers, we can harness the power of books to help students deal with behavioral, emotional, and social issues in a practice known as bibliotherapy.


WHAT IS BIBLIOTHERAPY?

Bibliotherapy is the practice of helping individuals grow and develop through books. Reading, writing, and discussion can provide an opportunity to work through grief, cope with a difficult situation, or just explore developmentally-appropriate topics. The practice dates back to the 1930s in the United States, and has widened to include self-help manuals and even movies.

At its most basic level, bibliotherapy involves selecting reading material that has relevance to the person’s life situation. Often, however, the practice will also involve writing, play, or reflective discussion.

One school of thought maintains that only professionals trained in psychology should practice this type of therapy while others feel that parents, teachers, and librarians can also apply the concept in their practice. The Bibliotherapy Education Project creates a distinction between these two applications:

Clinical Bibliotherapy: used by trained professionals; meant to deal with significant emotional or behavioral issues

Developmental Bibliotherapy: used by teachers, librarians, parents; meant to help children grow and develop

Regardless of the application, using children’s literature can help teachers and students deal with everything from behavior problems to social issues.


APPLYING BIBLIOTHERAPY IN THE CLASSROOM

Many teachers practice bibliotherapy in some manner, often without giving their practice a formal name. However, effective follow-up activities, thoughtful questions, and focused discussion require that teachers are mindful about their use of books to address individual and group issues.

Bibliotherapy may be used individually, with small groups, or even with an entire class, depending on the need. Teachers may also consider involving parents in the reading and follow-up activities.

As with most teaching strategies, bibliotherapy is a tool to be modified and adapted to a particular context. However, the process always begins with identifying the need of the students and selecting appropriate reading material. Teachers should take care to ensure that the books are appropriate in terms of reading level, interest, and subject matter. It is essential that teachers read the entire text and consider if any subjects addressed might require parental input or consent. It may be helpful to compile a written bibliography or classroom library of titles about common topics for that grade level. Media specialists, librarians, and other grade-level teachers may be useful collaborators!

Once titles have been selected, teachers should plan how and when reading will occur (individual/small group/read aloud) and what activities will help students reflect on the text, gain insight, and apply new understanding to their own situation. This process must be as carefully planned as any academic objective or students may not benefit fully from the experience!

It is important to remember that bibliotherapy is not a cure-all, nor will it reach every student in the same manner. Instead, it is just another tool in a teacher’s box to deal with the varied emotional, behavioral, and social issues of her students.


WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT BIBLIOTHERAPY?

Bibliotherapy Education Project
This site has tools to assist teachers in learning more about the use of books in therapy, evaluating materials for bibliotherapy work, and finding evaluated books for certain age groups and issues.

Bibliotherapy
An overview of bibliotherapy with a focus on classroom teachers. Includes nine steps to follow while implementing the principles of bibliotherapy.

What Ails Bibliotherapy?
An article written by a children’s librarian that describes her approach to bibliotherapy – to prepare children for emotional experiences before they occur.

Using Bibliotherapy with Gifted Children
This post, from the blog Unwrapping the Gifted, describes how a K-12 gifted education specialist used bibliotherapy with her fifth- and sixth-grade gifted students to reflect on situations and issues related to giftedness.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright May 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under anĀ Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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