Bibliotherapy refers to the use of books to pursue personal growth and learn to manage difficulties. Because I recently updated the Ross Psychology resource pages, I thought the current blog entry could highlight the helpfulness of bibliotherapy.
In reality, bibliotherapeutic effects can engender from any book. Self-help books and therapeutic workbooks represent the most obvious forms of bibliotherapy. Self-help books help guide the reader through different techniques and areas to contemplate in order to improve mental health; whereas workbooks provide a bit more direction by assigning specific exercises for the reader to practice. At times, self-help books also offer specific techniques to implement which can liken them to workbooks.
Memoirs, novels, and non-fiction works can also operate in bibliotherapeutic capacities. Memoirs and biographies offer the perspective of one person’s struggles and triumphs in life. Such books are particularly helpful when the reader lacks validation and/or support. Usually, memoirs also portray the way that a person overcame difficulties, which can inspire change in the reader and even facilitate methods to pursue a valued life. Lastly, memoirs can offer readers an individual to whom they can relate.
Novels, particularly well-written ones, can allow us to connect to our feelings and understand concepts through the experiences of fictional characters. Such books permit us to “get lost” in the story of another, which could then provide the opportunity to process our lives metaphorically as well as literally. Non-fiction works that relate to psychology or even have nothing to do with psychology can grant additional opportunities for change in similar ways as memoirs, novels, and self-help books.
When individuals use bibliotherapy as a supplement to psychotherapy, they have a forum to process the ways they can relate to readings, develop plans to implement recommended techniques, and better understand confusing points. Furthermore, if the therapist decides to read or has read the book being used for bibliotherapy, additional opportunities arise. For instance, the clinician and client can use the same language to discuss various problems. The written work can also act as an additional resource that allows the therapist to better understand and empathize with the client’s struggles.
Two other ways bibliotherapy can function include aftercare and/or a substitute for psychotherapy. Upon ending the therapeutic relationship, an individual may find that books serve as a great reminder for the growth made in therapy. Secondly, books can be an economical substitute for therapy if a person is not interested in or able to pursue treatment for any reason. While not always advisable, a person can gain great insights and learn to make changes from written works.
The use of books for therapeutic purposes poses the risk that the reader may misunderstand the concepts portrayed by the author, which is why bibliotherapy may not always offer a reasonable alternative to psychotherapy. Such misinterpretations could render usually effective strategies futile, which then can perpetuate numerous other issues (i.e., fostering the belief that “nothing works,” creating additional problems, etc.). Similar to misinterpretations, individuals with psychotic symptoms or thought disorders may not benefit from bibliotherapy alone since such problems often lead others to develop gross misinterpretations of reality.
Our minds tend to evaluate most incoming information in positive or negative terms, and this tendency can impact the extent to which a person benefits from bibliotherapy. For instance, we often read content with background chatter that decides “I can’t relate to this”…“I can relate to this”…”This is offensive”…”I hate this idea”…”I love this idea”… “This is stupid”… etc. The chatter filters the information we allow ourselves to consider and mindlessly dismisses anything we determine useless, irrelevant, or unpleasant. Consequently, the most effective approach to bibliotherapy involves an open-mind with an attitude that asks the question “What can I learn from this?”
I have recently updated the Ross Psychology list of resources – take a look!