Bibliotherapy is a form of therapy in which structured readings are used as an adjunct to psychotherapy. Such readings can be used to reinforce learning or insights gained in the therapeutic session or to give individuals additional professional resources to help in personal growth and development.
The goal of bibliotherapy is to broaden and deepen the client’s understanding of the particular problem that requires treatment. The written materials may educate the client about the disorder itself or be used to increase the client’s acceptance of a proposed treatment. Many people find that the opportunity to read about their problem outside the therapist’s office facilitates active participation in their treatment and promotes a stronger sense of personal responsibility for recovery. In addition, many are relieved to find that others have had the same disorder or problem and have coped successfully with or recovered from it. From the therapist’s standpoint, providing clients with specific information or assignments to be completed outside regular in-office sessions speeds the progress of therapy.
The goals of bibliotherapy include the following:
- provide information or insight
- stimulate discussion about problems
- communicate new values or attitudes
- create awareness of the existence of the problem in the wider population
- provide potential solutions to problems
Bibliotherapy has been applied in a variety of settings to many kinds of people with psychological problems. Practitioners have reported successful use of bibliotherapy in treating people with eating disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, agoraphobia alcohol and substance abuse, and stress-related physical disorders.
Bibliotherapy is an adjunct to psychotherapy. It is not intended as a replacement for psychotherapy or as a self-help treatment. In addition, bibliotherapy is not likely to be useful with clients who have thought disorders, psychoses, limited intellectual ability, dyslexia, or active resistance to treatment.
Adjunct —A form of treatment that is not strictly necessary but is helpful to a therapy regimen.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy —An approach to psychotherapy that emphasizes the correction of distorted thinking patterns and changing one’s behaviors accordingly.
Dyslexia —A type of reading disorder.
Regimen —A regulated course of treatment for a medical or mental disorder.
In most settings, bibliotherapy is used as an adjunct to more traditional forms of psychotherapy. Practitioners of cognitive-behavioral therapies are among the most enthusiastic supporters of bibliotherapy, particularly in the development of individualized treatment protocols, including workbooks, for specific disorders. For example, clients with eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa, often benefit from receiving educational information appropriate to their stage of recovery, such as books or articles about cultural biases regarding weight, attractiveness, and dieting. This information helps clients better understand the rationale for their treatment and to work on new skills or behavioral changes more effectively.
Unlike many standard forms of psychotherapy, bibliotherapeutic approaches often include specific examples of ways to deal with relapses or setbacks. As long as the clients keep these materials, they have easy access to resources for getting back on track.
People who use self-help manuals without professional guidance run the risk of misapplying techniques or misdiagnosing their problems.
As with any form of treatment, bibliotherapy is effective only if it actively engages the client’s desire for and belief in recovery. For many people, additional information or workbooks can be used in private to reinforce their commitment to getting better. People who lack the time or finances to attend regular psychotherapy sessions at a practitioner’s office often find that bibliotherapy can bridge the gap between infrequent appointments. Further, the nature of the disorder itself may sometimes preclude in-office treatment, such as for people suffering from agoraphobia. Current research indicates that a bibliotherapeutic approach can be highly effective in helping people with agoraphobia better understand and cope with their symptoms.
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Jane A. Fitzgerald, PhD
Ruth A. Wienclaw, PhD