Most of us realize how therapeutic reading can be.  We find ourselves entering the world described in the pages of a good book and becoming involved with the characters therein.  We often close the cover having gained new insight and ideas.   That is the purpose behind the use of bibliotherapy; to assist a youngster in overcoming the emotional turmoil related to a real-life problem by having him/her read literature on that topic.  This story can then serve as a springboard for discussion and possible resolution of that dilemma.   Thus, the adult provides guidance in the resolution of personal crisis through the use of directed readings and follow-up activities.


The student is believed to receive the benefits of bibliotherapy by passing through three stages:

Identification - the youngster identifies with a book character and events in the story, either real or fictitious.  Sometimes it is best to have a character of similar age to the youngster who faces similar events.  At other times, cartoon characters and stories are best.

Catharsis - the youngster becomes emotionally involved in the story and is able to release pent-up emotions under safe conditions (often through discussion or art work); and

Insight - the youngster, after catharsis (with the help of the teacher), becomes aware that his/her problems might also be addressed or solved.  Possible solutions to the book character's and one's own personal problems are identified.

     Bibliotherapy can be conducted with individuals or groups.  In individual bibliotherapy, literature is assigned to a student for a specific need.   The student may read the material or the literature may be read to him/her.   The activities that follow the reading are also conducted individually with the student. S/he discusses the literature with a teacher, writes a report, talks into the tape recorder, or expresses his/her reaction artistically.   Through this process s/he is able to unblock emotions and relieve emotional pressures.   Additionally, by examination and analysis of moral values and the stimulation of critical thinking, s/he develops self awareness, an enhanced self concept and improved personal and social judgment.  This outcome should result in improved behavior, an ability to handle and understand important life issues, and increased empathy, tolerance, respect and acceptance of others...all through identification with an appropriate literary model.

     In it's use with groups, Preview This Clip Now!the students read literature orally or listen while the adult reads to them.  Group discussion and activities follow.  Youngsters become aware that they are not alone in their feelings and that perceived problems are shared by others.

     Although bibliotherapy encourages change within the individual, its use is not restricted to times when a crisis is present.  However, it is not a cure-all for deep-rooted psychological problems either.  These deep-seated issues are best served through more intensive therapeutic interventions.  Other youngsters may not yet be able to view themselves in a literary mirror and may use literature for escape purposes only.  Others may tend to rationalize their problems away rather than facing them.  Still others may not be able to transfer insights into real life.  However, these vicarious experiences with literary characters prove to be helpful for many students.


A video by one of Dr. Mac's former students






How To Use Bibliotherapy 

1.   Identify youngster's needs. This task is done through observation, parent conferences, student writing assignments, and the review of school/facility records.

2.   Match the youngster(s) with appropriate materials.  Find books that deal with divorce, a death in the family, or whatever needs have been identified.  Keep the following in mind:
a:   The book must be at the youngster's reading ability level.
b.   The text must be at an interest level appropriate to the maturity of the youngster.
c.   The theme of the readings should match the identified needs of the youngster.
d.   The characters should be believable so that the youngster can empathize with their
e.   The plot of the story should be realistic and involve creativity in problem solving.

 3.   Decide on the setting and time for sessions, and how sessions will be introduced to the

4.   Design follow-up activities for the reading (e.g., discussion, paper writing, drawing,

5.   Motivate the youngster with introductory activities (e.g., asking questions to get a discussion going on the topic).

6.   Engage in the reading, viewing, or listening phase.  Ask leading questions and start short discussions throughout the reading.  Periodically, summarize what has occured thus far (to be sure that "the message" does not get lost in the trivial points).

7.   Take a break or allow a few minutes for the youngster to reflect on the material.

8.   Introduce the follow-up activities:
    -Retelling of the story
    -In depth discussion of the book (e.g., discussing right and wrong, morals, the law,
            strong and weak points of the main character, etc.)
    -Art activities (e.g., drawing map illustrating story events, creating collage from magazine
            photos and headlines to illustrate events in the story, draw pictures of events)
    -Creative writing (e.g., resolving the story in a different way, analyzing decisions of characters)
    -Drama (e.g., role playing, reconstructing story with puppets made during art activity, enacting a
            trial for the characters)

9.  Assist the student in achieving closure through discussion and a listing of
        possible-solutions, or some other activity.

cautions1. Avoid topics (e.g., abortion, drug use, crime) which might draw concerns from parents, community, etc. unless approved with the administration or those parties.

2. Be familiar with the book.  Read it and understand it before using it.

Activities and Discussion Questions

1.    Locate various books, stories, and filmstrips/videos  that deal with personal problems.
        Decide, if the materials are appropriate for bibliotherapy.  List why or why not.  If
        they are appropriate, decide which ages, groups, etc. would be the target population
        for these materials.

2.   With the materials you have located, device introductory and follow-up activities.

3.   Give a report to others, complete with a demonstration on the use of bibliotherapy with
        your materials.



Click here to view a video podcast on how to use Bibliotherapy

(This video was made by Anne Workman, former graduate student of Dr. Mac.)

Click here to see how bibliotherapy was used with a child who picked his nose

Click here to read an example of bibliotherapy use with kindergarteners

Where Can I Find Books On Various Life Crises and Issues?

    Free Spirit Press (They must be good... They published Dr. Mac's book!) A vast selection of self-help books for kids.

    Magination (not "Imagination") Press is one company that offers a wide selection of books on a variety of issues.  They can be contacted at  or by calling 1-800-374-2721.

    Lutra Press (  or  Phone: 503-291-0265) has a resource book that lists various fiction books to use for a large variety of issues in childrens' lives.


Click on the images in the carousel below to to expand the image and read information on that book.


For More Information

Adult bibliotherapy:--- Books help to heal (1979).  Journal of Reading, 23 (1), 33-35.

Axelrod, H., & Teti, T.R., (1976). An alternative to bibliotherapy: Audiovisual therapy. Educational Technology, 16 (12), 36-38.

Bauer, M. & Balius, F. (1995). Storytelling: Integrating therapy and curriculum for students with serious emotional disturbances. Teaching Exceptional Children, 27(2), 24-28

Brown, E.F. (1975). Bibliotherapy and its' widening applications. Matuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Coon, C. (2004). Books to grow with: A guide to using the best children's fiction for everyday issues and tough challenges. Portland, OR: Lutra Press.  or  Phone: 503-291-0265

Coon, C. (2005). Books to grow with: A guide to using the best children's fiction for pre-teens -- everyday issues and tough challenges. Portland, OR: Lutra Press.  or  Phone: 503-291-0265

Cornett, C.E., & Cornett, C.F. (1980). Bibliotherapy: The right book at the right time. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation (Library of Congress 80-82584).

Dreyer, S.S. (1977). The bookfinder. American Guidance Services, Circle Pines, MN.

Edwards, B.S. (1972). The therapeutic  value of reading. Elementary English, 49 (2), 213-218.

McCarty, H. & Chalmers, L. (1997). Bibliotherapy: Intervention and prevention. Teaching Exceptional Children, 29(6), 12-13, 16-17.

Olson, H.D. (1975). Bibliotherapy to help children solve problems. Elementary School Journal, 75 (7), 422-429.

Pardeck, J. (1995). Bibliotherapy: An innovative approach for helping children. Early Child Development and Care, 110, 83-88.

Schrank, F.A. (1982). Bibliotherapy as an elementary school counseling tool. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 16 (3), 218-227.

Sridhar, D., & Vaughn, S. (2000). Bibliotherapy for all: Enhancing reading comprehension, self-concept, and behavior. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33 (2), 74-82.

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