The idea that reading books has a positive effect on our moods and minds is not new. Many ancient societies, including the Egyptians and Greeks, regarded libraries as sacred, healing spaces. Today, books can be used in a therapeutic way to support mental health. Reading specific pieces of literature and discussing them with a counsellor or in a group is believed to help clients understand perspectives other than their own, make sense of traumatic events or upsetting feelings, experience hope, and develop empathy. Reading is also thought to improve self-awareness, self-esteem, and feelings of self-efficacy.

What is Bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy uses books and other forms of literature alongside more traditional therapeutic approaches to support a client’s mental health. The books used may include self-help, poetry, philosophy, memoirs, workbooks, and fiction. Typically, the genre of books chosen depends on each client’s unique background and goals.

Bibliotherapy has traditionally been divided into two distinct branches, although the line between them is often blurred in practice. Developmental bibliotherapy is often used in community and educational settings. This literature helps to address common life challenges, such as bullying. Clinical or therapeutic bibliotherapy uses books in professional counselling contexts to address and manage symptoms of a diagnosed mental or physical disorder.

How it works

Bibliotherapy provides an outlet for clients to work through issues and promotes the idea that we are not alone in our struggles. This process happens in 4 stages:

  • 1. Identification: the reader identifies with a character in the text along with their problems and goals.
  • 2. Catharsis: The reader experiences the emotions, struggles, and hopes of the character from a safe, removed position.
  • 3. Insight: The reader recognizes connections between themselves, the characters, and situations they find themselves in. The reader may choose to apply ideas from the literature to their own lives.
  • 4. Universalization: The reader realizes they are not alone. Others have experienced similar things and found ways to work through them.

Typically, a bibliotherapist will recommend books based on their preferred approach and the client’s specific circumstance. For example, a CBT therapist may recommend a self-help workbook that can be used alongside in-person sessions. A counsellor specializing in trauma may recommend a novel about a character who endured similar experiences as their client. The literature can then be used to deepen the experience, provide insights into the client’s feelings, and uncover treatment options.

What to consider

  • · This approach can be used with clients suffering from anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, a history of trauma, addiction, grief, divorce, and other relationship challenges.
  • · Can be used in both individual and group therapy settings.
  • · Bibliotherapy is used alongside other treatment methods such as cognitive-behaviour therapy or psychodynamic therapy.
  • · Bibliotherapy is usually an inexpensive addition to counselling and may be useful for clients who are not able to attend sessions in the long-term.
  • · It does require the time to read and reflect on the material. Scheduling and time constraints should be considered when exploring this option.

If you are interested in including literature in your mental health journey, be sure to ask the counsellor you are working with if this is a service they provide. You can then discuss the literature that would be most appropriate for you and allow you to experience the benefits of bibliotherapy.

Written by Cat Zydyk


Psychology Today. (2022, August 9). Bibliotherapy.,support%20a%20patient’s%20mental%20health.