Bibliotherapy is an adjunct to psychological treatment that incorporates appropriate books or other written materials, usually intended to be read outside of psychotherapy sessions, into the treatment regimen.
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 it or recovered from it. From the therapist's standpoint, providing a client with specific information or assignments to be completed outside regular in-office sessions speeds the progress of therapy.
Bibliotherapy has been applied in a variety of settings to many kinds of psychological problems. Practitioners have reported successful use of bibliotherapy in treating eating disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, agoraphobia, alcohol and substance abuse, and stress-related physical disorders.
Bibliotherapy is not likely to be useful with clients suffering from thought disorders, psychoses, limited intellectual ability, dyslexia, or active resistance to treatment. In addition, some clients may use bibliotherapy as a form of do-it-yourself treatment rather than seeking professional help.
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 client keeps these materials, he or she has 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 that can be used in private 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. Likewise, the nature of the disorder itself may preclude in-office treatment for some people, such as persons suffering from agoraphobia. Current research indicates that a bibliotherapeutic approach can be highly effective in helping agoraphobics better understand and cope with their symptoms.
Weekes, Claire. "Bibliotherapy." In Handbook of the Treatment of the Anxiety Disorders, edited by Carole Lindemann. 2nd Edition. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996.
White, John R. "Introduction." Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy for Specific Problems and Populations, edited by John R. White and Arthur S. Freeman. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002.
Wonderlich, Steven A., and others. "Integrative Cognitive Therapy for Bulimic Behavior." In Eating Disorders: Innovative Directions in Research and Practice, edited by Ruth Striegel-Moore and Linda Smolak. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001.
Jane A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D.