Project South Africa


What it Bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy, or book therapy, involves the systematic use of books to help people cope with their mental, physical, emotional, developmental or social problems. The etymology of the term bibliotherapy (biblio- is the Greek word for books and, therapy comes from therapeia, meaning to help medically) aligns bibliotherapy together with some other similar practices, such as art therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, play therapy, etc.

As a part of expressive therapy, bibliotherapy is based on the premise of the healing, consoling power of a book. The psychological basis of bibliotherapy is related to the psychology of reading and the “book-reader” interaction. In bibliotherapy, the value of literature depends strictly on its capacity to encourage a therapeutic response from the participants. The individual’s feeling-response is more important than an intellectual grasp of the work’s meaning.

One of the main goals of bibliotherapy is universalization – recognition that you are not the only one who feels a certain way. Bibliotherapy can help an individual to understand that he or she is not the first or the only one to face a specific problem or challenge. Other important goals of bibliotherapy include: relieving emotional or mental pressure; developing an individual’s self-concept; communicating new values and attitudes with regard to the problem; and providing clients with alternative solutions to the problem.

Who can benefit from Bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is used with people of all ages –children, young adults, adults and seniors. Recent studies on bibliotherapy show that it could be successfully implemented to help individuals to deal with a wide range of physical, psychological, emotional and social issues, such as:

  • physical health problems and disabilities (chronic and life-threatening illnesses)
  • general mental health problems (anxiety and fears, depression)
  • stress
  • isolation
  • addictive behaviour (alcohol and drug addiction)
  • low self-esteem
  • learning disabilities
  • family relationships (divorce, single parents, siblings, adoption)
  • death and loss
  • grief and bereavement
  • abuse (physical, emotional and sexual)
  • life changes and adjustments (immigration, refugees, homelessness)
  • man-made disasters (e.g., acts of war, terrorist attacks, or school shootings)
  • natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, tsunami, or hurricanes)

What does a bibliotherapy session look like?

A bibliotherapy session is a read-aloud session: a facilitator reads a selection of literary materials that correspond with a particular issue that an individual or a group have to address through the session. The reading is followed by a guided group discussion. During the discussion, the participants are encouraged to ask questions and share their stories relevant to issues and situations discussed. The session often involves a variety of writing exercises that provide the participants with another powerful way of expressing themselves.

How are books selected for bibliotherapy sessions?

Books used can be fiction (short stories, excerpts from novels), poetry or non-fiction (biography, memoirs, collections of true stories, self-help books, etc.). In bibliotherapy, the value of literature depends strictly on its capacity to encourage a therapeutic response from the participants.

The following criteria are used to select appropriate bibliographic materials used during the bibliotherapy sessions:

  • relevance of the content (reading and discussing the book provides insight into the problem to be solved);
  • accuracy and currency of the information on a particular medical condition;
  • appropriateness of the information to the readers’ developmental level;
  • a high level of sensitivity in approaching terminal illness and death;
  • literary value;
  • illustrations creating a good visual image (for children books);
  • accuracy of cultural details and interpretations.