Research on Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy is the use of literature to treat mental, emotional, and nervous disorders.

Bodart defined bibliotherapy (Ed 225-828) as: "A process of dynamic interaction between the personality of the reader and literature-interaction which may be utilized for personality assessment, adjustment, and growth."

While not effective for all children some may begin to understand themselves better and control their psychological needs as a result of their interactions with literature.

Bodart has identified three steps that the reader goes through to benefit from a bibliotheraputic process (Ed 225-828).

  1. Identification - the reader associates himself or herself with a character or situation in a book.
  2. Catharsis - the reader shares the feelings and motivations of the book’s character.
  3. Insight - the reader realizes his or her situation can be dealt with more effectively by imitating or adapting the ideas from the reading material.

Research in bibliotherapy has shown student improvement in the following areas:

According to Cornett and Cornett (1980) the bibliotherapeutic process can create the following changes: affective (attitudes, values, emotions) in the readers.

  1. Promote empathy
  2. Create positive attitudes
  3. Produce personal and social adjustment
  4. Develop positive self-image
  5. Relieve emotional pressures
  6. Develop new interests
  7. Promote tolerance, respect, and acceptance of others
  8. Encourage realization that there is good in all people
  9. Help readers to identify socially accepted behaviors
  10. Stimulate the examination of moral values, which results in character development
  11. Create a desire to emulate models

Cognitive (intellectual, reasoning, thinking) changes on the reader.

  1. Stimulate critical thinking such as analysis, drawing conclusions and implications, making decisions, solving problems, making judgments
  2. Give perspective to problems so that they can be put into proper proportion; reader sees universality of problems
  3. Provide vicarious experiences
  4. Provide insight into human behavior and motives
  5. The reader develops the ability for self-evaluation
  6. Challenge the reader to consider higher-level reasoning
  7. Encourage planning before taking a course of action
  8. Permit discussion on an impersonal level
  9. Reveal that problems have many alternative solutions and individuals have choices in solving problems

Bibliotherapy intervention by: 1. teachers, 2. parents, 3. librarians, and 4. counselors. It should not substitute for long-range therapeutic intervention by a psychologist or psychiatrist, that may be needed for an individual to resolve deep-seated problems, even though it may be one of the many techniques used by these specialists.

Preparing for bibliotherapy (Bodart [Ed 225-828]).

  1. Ascertain the true nature of a student or a student’s needs
  2. Select a book that meets those needs
  3. Prepare a plan of presentation that includes discussion and follow-up activities

Ways to determine a student’s needs (Schultheis and Pavik. [Ed 163-493]).

  1. Observation
  2. School records
  3. One-to-one conferences
  4. Conferences with parents or guardians
  5. Carefully constructed writing assignments, especially journal writings. Journal writing can offer students a means of revealing what is bothering them.

Guidelines for choosing a book according to Negin ([Ed 177-498])

  1. Determined the need
  2. Examine books and determine if they provide a fair picture of the problem. Ex: distorted pictures of handicapped
  3. Do not select books that are didactic, moralistic, condescending, or inaccurate
  4. Select books that involve the reader in the problem solving process
  5. Consider the literary merit of the book

Steps for implementing bibliotherapy according to Schultheis and Pavlik ([Ed 163-493]).

  1. Establish the need
  2. Find the book
  3. Decide whether to use individual or group bibliotherapy

Individual bibliotherapy


  1. Requires one-to-one sessions
  2. Time consuming


  1. Offers student the security of knowing that someone cares enough to listen
  2. Some students feel freer to express themselves in a one-to-one situation

Group bibliotherapy


  1. Allows interaction among the participants who share common needs or interests
  2. Provides security to students who feel uncomfortable if singled out for attention
  3. Allows for sharing of experiences which serves to lessen anxieties, promote feelings of belonging, and improve self-concept
  4. Lead students to appreciate others who are in some way different, thus aiding in social development

Common characteristics of bibliotherapy techniques found by Bodart ([Ed 225-823]).

  1. The student/students read a book (poetry, short stories, plays, or any other form of literature can be used.
  2. The teacher allows a certain amount of time for reflection on the book
  3. The book is discussed either by the student and teacher or by members of the group
  4. Interaction may continue even after the discussion, as the students continue to reflect on the material and expand and clarify the ideas.

Bodart suggests six discussion steps ([Ed 225-828]).

  1. Students retell the plot highlighting the feelings, characters, and situations relevant to the problem at hand.
  2. Ask questions that probe into what happened in the book in order to bring about a shift in feeling and relationship, thus making it easier for students to identify with the characters and situations
  3. Attempt to get the students to transfer the situation in the book to real life situation.
  4. Lead the students to explore the consequences of certain behaviors or feelings and recapitulate what happened as a result of those actions or feelings
  5. Provide opportunities for the group to draw conclusions or generalizations as to whether the actions in the book had positive or negative effects
  6. Create opportunities for the group to determine the desirability or effectiveness of several alternative actions in a specific situation

Bibliotherapy may be limited by:

  1. The readiness of the child to see himself in a mirror
  2. The therapist’s skill in directing the process through all the steps, especially the follow-up
  3. The degree and nature of the child’s problem
  4. The availability of quality materials
  5. The manner in which the book is presented to the child
  6. The tendency of some students to rationalize away problems when reading about them
  7. The student’s and bibliotherapist’s realization of the limitations of the process, i.e., that problems cannot be fully resolved by merely reading about them.
  8. The ability of the student to transfer his insight to real life
  9. The tendency of some students to use literature as an escape, causing increasing withdrawal into a world of fantasy
  10. The interrelationship between the reader and the bibliotherapist
  11. The availability of courses and training programs in bibliotherapy