Bibliotherapy Lends a Hand in Healing

The term bibliotherapy simply defined is the use of books with the intent to help and heal.

Look in a book and you will see

Words and magic and mystery

Look in a book and you will find

Sense and nonsense of every kind

Look in a book and you will know

All the things that help you grow!

Just a Glimpse

In her award winning poem, author Ivy Eastwick eloquently describes the wondrous power that books have to open new worlds and fuel children’s imaginations.  She gives us just a glimpse of a book’s vast capacity to teach and bring new perspectives and a peek into the world of children’s literature where there is a beautiful and nearly infinite array of books, many containing story lines and unique characters that have the potential to provide understanding and inspiration to children.

Bibliotherapy – What is it?

The term bibliotherapy simply defined is the use of books with the intent to help and heal.  In a practical world, it is using books as a tool to facilitate emotional growth.  It is using books and stories as a catalyst for change – a way to provide new perspectives that might in turn prompt new thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  With bibliotherapy, appropriately shared books help children learn healthy ways to face and adapt to some of life’s great challenges.

How Do Stories Promote Healing?

Bibliotherapy can be a simple process and at the same time bring about significant change.  It begins with a carefully selected story.  Children listen to a story and become interested in the plot and characters.  They identify with characters that are experiencing circumstances similar to their own.  With this identification, they are drawn into the process of recognizing and experiencing the character’s feelings – but from a distance that feels safe to them.  This safe distance allows children to look at sensitive issues that might otherwise be too painful to face directly.  As story characters begin to resolve problems, listeners too gain helpful ideas on how to solve their own problems – and consequently are able to better navigate situations that might previously have seemed insurmountable. 1

Bibliotherapy – Especially Helpful in the Healthcare Setting

While bibliotherapy can be used at home, in counseling settings and in schools, it can be especially beneficial in hospitals and healthcare settings.  Think of the possibilities! If a child is destined for the hospital or scheduled for surgery, imagine how helpful it would be to read about a storybook character experiencing this first.  Or with a new diagnosis –If a child can read about a fictitious character navigating a similar path, it stands to reason that their own expectations would become clearer, and stress would be reduced—all leading to a better prepared child.  While many purposely selected books lend themselves to these kinds of teachable moments, there are many other books to share simply for diversion.  The “just for fun” books play an equally valuable role as they can help to restore a sense of normalcy – something often missing in the hospital setting.

Even Better than an iPad

While books and technology (in the healthcare setting) share the capacity to teach, distract, and entertain, there is one important difference.  Bibliotherapy is inherently relationship-centered.  With bibliotherapy, caregivers read aloud and share stories with children who want to listen.  There is an active exchange of comments, questions and answers.  In this way, stories facilitate discussion and encourage outward expression –both which often lead to the building of trust and caring relationships –and is there any better foundation for psychosocial support – especially for a child who is battling injury or serious  illness?

heartfelt-bookshelfA Book for every Occasion

Whether it is an interactive picture book or a coming-of-age epic teen novel, there is a book to be shared for every occasion, and in our health systems, especially, there is abundant opportunity.  In the NICUs, for example, the sharing of a melodic and repeating- verse board book might help to soothe a newborn or strengthen that all-important first bond.  For a child in-patient, a playroom group story time might be a chance to connect with others and be the highlight for the day.  For the patient in isolation, a one-on-one read-aloud might represent a lifeline to the outside world.  And, for the apprehensive child in clinic, a look-n-find book might provide the perfect diversion.

1 Related Research:  “Bibliotherapy – A Resource to Facilitate Emotional Healing and Growth,” Dr. Melissa Allen Heath, School Psychology International, Sage Publications, 2005