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What is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy, which is a branch of arts therapy, refers to healing through books. The term bibliotherapy derives from the Greek words for 'book' (biblion) and 'healing' (therapeia).

Reading literature has long been recognised for its therapeutic potential in almost every culture. The first documented use of bibliotherapy as an adjunct to psychotherapy dates back to the 19th century.

There are two types of activities utilised in contemporary therapeutic processes: receptive therapy focuses on the verbal exploration of texts, whereas active therapy requires creative input from clients or patients including the production of poems, journals, memoirs etc.

Bibliotherapy may also signify therapeutic discussions without the physical presence of books. In this case, the source of inspiration for a dialogue can be a quotation or perhaps the opportunity to recall treasured memories together. The latter one tends to be an immensely effective method when dealing with elderly, frail people or children.

Where is bibliotherapy used?

Bibliotherapy takes many forms and can be used in conjunction with various remedial frameworks. The developmental therapy of children usually takes place in children's libraries, places providing learning facilities or schools themselves, as well as in educational and career advice centres, children's homes and special education.

As for adults, bibliotherapy is conducted in social, educational, cultural and health care institutions. Accordingly, bibliotherapy may be available in care homes, day centres, community centres and libraries, and it plays a pivotal role in hospice care, chronic care, clinical practice and rehabilitation as well. Law enforcement can also make good use of bibliotherapy whereby offenders acquire knowledge and personal skills necessary to function in society.

The method may be integrated into the function of supervisory teams within the social care sector, too. Bibliotherapy is suitable to be employed in a variety of different contexts where developing self-awareness is of key importance, and it can be performed virtually anywhere there is a need for development, education or the maintenance of mental wellbeing.

What are the objectives of bibliotherapy?

The versatility and adaptability of literary texts provides a platform for us to come up with ideas that are suitable for specific groups based on their composition. Nearly all affected clusters aim to increase self-awareness as well as develop skills in communication, problem solving, creative thinking, empathy and teamwork.

More specifically, a possible objective in clinical psychology may be to expedite and intensify the rehabilitation process. With children, the focus falls on addressing and resolving typical childhood concerns. Legal professionals make good use of bibliotherapy for better understanding and advancing social values.

Literature enables individuals to get in touch with themselves and express their emotions openly, while it also reduces anxiety and contributes to the development of a positive attitude by prompting the reader to identify new opportunities in his/her own life.

What does bibliotherapy entail?

Through the incorporation of carefully pre-selected literary works targeting shared issues within a group, the bibliotherapy session's leader guides participants on a journey of self-discovery via an interactive discussion class concentrating on the chosen text (or a part thereof). The wide range of comments generated help people identify with the text's theme. This process represents an important step towards increased self-awareness and, by extension, an enhanced sense of judgement of others, while it can also trigger positive transformation in terms of hitherto rigid personal structures. Although participants often compare sessions to literature classes, the leader does not expect them to analyse or interpret the chosen text, rather s/he intends to encourage participants to articulate personal responses to it within a group setting.

The sessions involve the perceptive exploration of literature arising out of personal experience, which enables participants to consider problems jointly and find the text's underlying message tailored to individual needs.

Who is bibliotherapy recommended for?

Based on the details above, bibliotherapy is clearly recommended for and can be successfully utilised by people from almost all walks of life. One exception, however, is represented by patients undergoing psychological treatment - such as those suffering from acute psychotic disorder or major depression, and individuals in a crisis situation - for whom bibliotherapeutic methods are not recommended.