Books are used in all forms of bibliotherapy; a practice which offers carefully selected and evaluated texts, including non-fiction offering physical and mental health information, or fiction and poetry to provide a more creative form of therapy. Three strands of bibliotherapeutic practice can be identified internationally: self-help bibliotherapy, Books on Prescription schemes, and creative bibliotherapy. Although the types of books and genres differ, the ‘biblio’ – or book – component can be considered a constant factor.
Traditional, or self-help, bibliotherapy
Bibliotherapy is now a well-established therapeutic intervention within clinical settings. Health professionals prescribe non-fiction self-help books to support people experiencing mental health issues. In this setting, bibliotherapy is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) where self-help books and, more recently, fiction, can provide a range of approaches for changing thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Books used within a CBT context are seen as an effective adjunct treatment for mental ill-health.
Books on Prescription
An interesting development linking health professionals and librarians transpired early in the twenty-first century through the Books on Prescription (BoP) scheme. In this form of bibliotherapy a medical practitioner recommends a book to patients with the book details as a ‘book prescription’. The patient then takes the book prescription to a local library to source and borrow the book. BoP schemes arose when a Cardiff doctor, Dr Neil Frude, developed a pilot partnership model working with Cardiff Libraries. The pilot BoP model expanded geographically across Wales into and throughout the United Kingdom and is now delivered worldwide.
Libraries participating in BoP schemes have specially developed book collections of appropriate titles for people with a broad range of clinical conditions, including depression, anxiety, bereavement, eating disorders and physical illness.
Creative bibliotherapy predominantly uses fiction and poetry to provide a less traditional form of therapy, often through facilitated reading groups. Research supports the belief that when someone connects with a particular story they can often begin to better connect with their lives, personally and emotionally.
Since the 1970s, this form of bibliotherapy has been delivered using literary texts read aloud by a trained facilitator, followed by a discussion to interpret and make meaning of the text. This is known as creative bibliotherapy and is commonly delivered in group sessions. In creative bibliotherapy a facilitator selects reading materials to provide the primary structure and focus for reading aloud and group discussion to encourage emotional engagement with the reading materials. The term creative bibliotherapy broadly refers to using literature as a pathway to provide personal insight and change perspectives of psychological, social and emotional challenges. Creative bibliotherapy focuses on such challenges without attempting to physically cure specific symptoms or disease, instead developing an awareness of how a person thinks about them. Research has shown that in creative bibliotherapy, reading literary texts aloud followed by discussion can increase self-awareness, empathy and willingness to discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that in turn improve coping abilities.