Publish date: Jul 2017

Guided reading, often referred to as bibliotherapy, has been shown to significantly impact people when reaching a crossroads and facing critical decisions (Brewster, Sen, & Cox, 2012; Moldovan, Cobeanu, & David, 2013; Walwyn & Rowley, 2011). The general goals of bibliotherapy include providing information and insight, finding facts for solutions, contemplating and offering dialogue on problems, communicating new values and attitudes, and learning about how others have faced the same problems (Pardeck, 1998). Bibliotherapy has been found effective in a variety of demographics. It has been recommended as complementary treatment for depression and other mental health conditions (Fanner & Urqhuart, 2008; Fanner & Urqhuart, 2009), and has also shown success with problem drinkers (Apodaca & Miller, 2003), and other people with substance use problems (Johnson, 2012). A good book offering solace, enlightenment, and inspiration may become a crucial component in the healing process by presenting choices and pointing out a path.

In general, bibliotherapy is defined as using books from a list created under the guidance of a subject expert in order to address a therapeutic need. A diverse collection of titles can be used for both developmental and clinical purposes (Wilson & Thornton, 2006).

Clinical bibliotherapy refers to the use of any reading material that health professionals, including addiction counselors, hand over to their patients to complement the in-person intervention and/or treatment. The material would typically be a self-help publication, a brochure, or a workbook, which may or may not be accompanied by another “textbook”-type publication. Examples include therapy manuals and workbooks from reputable publishers, available in public libraries or for purchase (Norcross et al., 2013).

Guided reading for developmental bibliotherapy may limit texts to traditional literary works, such as fiction, poetry, and drama, i.e., the works of established writers and poets, as reading material. Conducted by bibliotherapists trained not only in psychotherapy, but also in literary theory and analysis, these sessions focus on a single text at a time (e.g., a poem or short story). The therapist usually reads the text aloud and guides the conversation as dictated by the needs of the individual or group. A special case of such groups are book clubs operating in various settings, whether organized by public libraries (Walwyn & Rowley, 2011) or in more informal gatherings. Titles are selected by the librarian or group leader, and participants are expected to read the book before the meeting. A variety of support materials can make these sessions more successful, such as discussion questions, talking points, or a list of books for special conditions (Berthoud & Elderkin, 2013).

Libraries can make their resources discoverable and available for those who can benefit from them the most when they need them. Self-help books, published and edited by professionals, can assist to structure day-to-day living; however, bibliotherapy, considered in a broader sense, also has the potential to recruit librarians in public libraries to offer other wonderful and relevant resources on their shelves. Traditional reading advisories work both in the physical and digital environments. Due to the sensitive nature of addiction, the online environment better facilitates the information behavior by allowing anonymous information seeking. With the help of a Carnegie-Whitney grant from the American Library Association, the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies in New Jersey, USA is currently developing an easily discoverable, non-commercial, open-access website to assist readers who wish to retain their anonymity as well as all in need for information and guidance on the potentials of bibliotherapy in addictions, including librarians and counselors.


Judit Ward and William Bejarano

Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, New Jersey


References/ further reading

Apodaca, T. R., & Miller, W. R. (2003). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of bibliotherapy for alcohol problems. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(3), 289-304.
Berthoud, E., & Elderkin, S. (2013). The novel cure: From abandonment to zestlessness: 751 books to cure what ails you. New York, NY: Penguin Press. SEE HERE
Brewster, L., Sen, B., & Cox, A. (2012). Legitimising bibliotherapy: Evidence-based discourses in healthcare. Journal of Documentation, 68(2), 185-205.
Fanner, D., & Urqhuart, C. (2009). Bibliotherapy for mental health service users part 2: A survey of psychiatric libraries in the UK. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 109-117.
Fanner, D., & Urquhart, C. (2008). Bibliotherapy for mental health service users part 1: A systematic review. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 25(4), 237-252.
Johnson, M. (2012). Bibliotherapy and journaling as a recovery tool with African Americans with substance use disorders. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 30(3), 367-370.
Moldovan, R., Cobeanu, O., & David, D. (2013). Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild depresPastesive symptomatology: Randomized clinical trial of efficacy and mechanisms of change. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 20(6), 482-493.
Norcross, J. C., Campbell, L. F., Grohol, J. M., Santrock, J. W., Selagea, F., & Sommer, R. (2013). Self-help that works: Resources to improve emotional health and strengthen relationships. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Pardeck, J. T. (1998). Using books in clinical and social work practice: A guide to bibliotherapy. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press.
Walwyn, O., & Rowley, J. (2011). The value of therapeutic reading groups organized by public libraries. Library & Information Science Research, 33(4), 302-312.
Ward, J., Bejarano. B., Palotai. M., Kovacs. B. (2014) Books That Get to You: Bibliotherapy in Addictions. Substance Abuse Library and Information Studies; Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference SALIS (pp114-115).
Wilson, S., & Thornton, S. (2006). To heal and enthuse: Developmental bibliotherapy and pre-service primary teachers' reflections on learning and teaching mathematics. In Identities, cultures and learning spaces: Proceedings of the 29th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 36-44).

August 2016.

The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.