What Even IS Bibliotherapy?

By Theresa Kiser | February 4, 2020

What is bibliotherapy? Find out at bibliotherapyproject.com

Theresa Kiser        #2: What even IS bibliotherapy?            

What is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is, simply, reading for healing. 

But there’s more to it than that. Is it for therapists only? Is it an art? A science?

Today I’ll share:

  • What bibliotherapy is (a clear definition)
  • The difference between developmental and clinical bibliotherapy
  • What type of bibliotherapy is addressed at The Bibliotherapy Project
  • Bonus: Why it matters

What is it?

Bibliotherapy is “the art of using literature to help individual or small groups of children understand specific difficult experiences.” (Thibault 2004, http://www.naeyc.org/yc March 2013)

And that’s just it.

There is science to it, but it’s also an art, and can be used in the contexts of both professional counseling AND a home or school environment.

What is bibliotherapy? Definition source: Thibault 2004, http://www.naeyc.org/yc March 2013

Types of Bibliotherapy:

Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, Ed.D. and Paula McMillen, Ph.D. with the American Counseling Association explain:

“[B]ibliotherapy involves the use of books and other media to facilitate both normal development and clinically significant problems.”


(Emphasis mine.)

So…do you need a degree or special certification to use bibliotherapy?

The “both” in the excerpt above shows that while professional counselors will need certifications for clinical use of bibliotherapy, there is plenty of space for non-therapists (such as parents, educators, librarians, and healthcare workers) to use bibliotherapy with their children in other contexts.

There are two types of bibliotherapy:

1. Clinical bibliotherapy, utilized by mental health practitioners, addresses emotional-behavioral problems to meet therapeutic goals.

2. Developmental bibliotherapy, employed by educators, librarians and healthcare workers, facilitates transitions with basically healthy individuals (Rubin, 1978).


(Emphasis theirs.)

The goal here at The Bibliotherapy Project is to focus on developmental bibliotherapy.

I want all parents, teachers, and librarians to feel confident using picture books to foster emotional strength in their kids so when life’s inevitable tough times hit, the children will have stories, memories, and conversations to remember and lean on to get them through.

A Note about Kids in Therapy:

If a child is in professional counseling (or needs it), developmental bibliotherapy is NO SUBSTITUTE. We don’t want any children deprived of the counseling they need because a parent attempted to DIY-it based on an internet article.

That would be a “no.”

Instead, at-home bibliotherapy can supplement clinical therapy. Your child’s counselor will probably be happy that you want to be involved. Share your plans with the counselor and listen to whatever guidance they recommend. If they recommend not to read certain stories to your child at a certain stage of counseling, follow that advice. Any input from The Bibliotherapy Project should only be taken with the go-ahead from your child’s counselor.

Clinical bibliotherapy should only be done by a trained professional. Developmental bibliotherapy can be used by caring adults for “basically healthy” children.

Bibliotherapy is Proactive Too:

Finally, developmental bibliotherapy is a proactive measure.

(NOTE: I’ll usually just refer to on this site as plain “bibliotherapy,” since the understanding will be that we are NOT focused on anything clinical.)

Best case scenario: a healthy child who has not yet encountered challenges in life reads about setbacks, obstacles, and grief in stories shared by a caring adult.

When she has questions, she feels safe to ask, and the adult feels confident to answer her. Then, when something tough finally happens (moving away, death in the family, illness, etc.), the child remembers stories in which characters not only faced those same challenges, but found meaning and hope in life anyway.

That’s what this is all about: teaching a new generation to hope, even—and especially—when life gets rough.

That’s what this is all about: teaching a new generation to hope, even—and especially—when life gets rough.

If you’d like to find out more about bibliotherapy, keep reading. There’s more to come!

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How have you learned about bibliotherapy? Please leave a comment below!

I look forward to chatting with you in the comments.

Sincerely, Theresa Kiser

About Theresa Kiser

I’m Theresa Kiser, a mother and award-winning children’s book author passionate about connecting children with the books that will help them through life’s inevitable tough times. On a rare moment when I’m not writing or changing diapers, I might indulge in fruity teas, dark chocolate, and a good book.

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