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R4R @ Rutgers: Reading for Recovery

R4R is a resource geared towards those interested in the use of bibliotherapy, i. e., guided reading, for substance use problems. It was created at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Library in 2015-2016 with the help of an ALA Carnegie-Whitney grant.

What is Bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy refers to the use of books from a list created under the guidance of a subject expert in order to address a therapeutic need.  Although the practice has received growing attention in recent years, the term bibliotherapy itself was first coined a century ago, and the underlying belief that books can provide healing benefits to readers is one that dates all the way back to antiquity.

About Bibliotherapy

In its modern application, bibliotherapy is used to treat a variety of disorders, including insomnia, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and addiction, and it shows promise for use by both children and adults.  There is great variety in how bibliotherapy is performed, with some readers working directly under the supervision of their doctor or counselor and others choosing to pursue an entirely self-directed course of treatment. 


One of the great appeals of bibliotherapy is the diversity of materials that can be incorporated into its curriculum, which is in no way limited to traditional self-help books.  Not only have studies shown that both fiction and non-fiction books can be equally helpful to patients, but more experimental forms, such as graphic novels, have also shown tremendous promise, meaning that the number of successful treatments that exist is potentially as great as the number of books that have been written.

Bibliography: A selection of scholarly articles on bibliotherapy

Ackerson, J., Scogin, F., McKendree-Smith, N. & Lyman, R. D. (1998). Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild and moderate adolescent depressive symptomatology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(4), 685–690.

Adams, S. J., & Pitre, N. L. (2000). Who uses bibliotherapy and why? A survey from an underserviced area. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45(7), 645-649.

Allen, J. R., Allen, S. F., Latrobe, K. H., Brand, M., Pfefferbaum, B., Elledge, B., . . . Guffey, M. (2012). The power of story. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1), 44-49.

Anderson, S. B., & Guthery, A. M. (2015). Mindfulness-based psychoeducation for parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: An applied clinical project. Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 28(1), 43-49. doi:10.1111/jcap.12103

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.

Bergsma, A. (2008). Do self-help books help? Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(3), 341-360. doi:10.1007/s10902-006-9041-2

Billington, J. (2011). 'Reading for life': Prison reading groups in practice and theory. Critical Survey, 23(3), 67-85. doi:10.3167/cs.2011.230306

Bjorvatn, B., Fiske, E., & Pallesen, S. (2011). A self-help book is better than sleep hygiene advice for insomnia: A randomized controlled comparative study. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 52(6), 580-585. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2011.00902.x

Brewster, L. (2008a). Medicine for the soul: Bibliotherapy. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(3), 115-119.

Brewster, L. (2008b). The reading remedy: Bibliotherapy in practice. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(4), 172-177.

Brewster, L. (2009). Reader development and mental wellbeing: The accidental bibliotherapist. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 22(1), 13-16.

Brewster, L. (2012). 'More benefit from a well-stocked library than a well-stocked pharmacy'. CILIP Update, 11(12), 38.

Brewster, L., Sen, B., & Cox, A. (2012). Legitimising bibliotherapy: Evidence-based discourses in healthcare. Journal of Documentation, 68(2), 185-205. doi:10.1108/00220411211209186

Brewster, L., Sen, B., & Cox, A. (2013). Mind the gap: Do librarians understand service user perspectives on bibliotherapy? Library Trends, 61(3), 569-586.

Brière, F. N., Rohde, P., Shaw, H., & Stice, E. (2014). Moderators of two indicated cognitive-behavioral depression prevention approaches for adolescents in a school-based effectiveness trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 5355-62. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2013.12.005

Bryan, A. I. (1939). Can there be a science of bibliotherapy? Library Journal, 64(1), 773-776.

Chamberlain, D., Heaps, D., & Robert, I. (2008). Bibliotherapy and information prescriptions: a summary of the published evidence-base and recommendations from past and ongoing Books on Prescription projects. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 15(1), 24-36. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2007.01201.x

Coote, H. M. J., & MacLeod, A. K. (2012). A self-help, positive goal-focused intervention to increase well-being in people with depression. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 19(4), 305-315. doi:10.1002/cpp.1797

den Boer, P.C.A.M., Wiersma, D. and van den Bosch, R.J. (2004). Why is self-help neglected in the treatment of emotional disorders? A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 34(6), 959–971. doi: 10.1017/S003329170300179X

Detrixhe, J. J. (2010). Souls in jeopardy: Questions and innovations for bibliotherapy with fiction. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education & Development, 49(1), 58-72.

Dèttore, D., Pozza, A., & Andersson, G. (2015). Efficacy of technology-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy for OCD versus control conditions, and in comparison with therapist-administered CBT: Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 44(3), 190-211. doi:10.1080/16506073.2015.1005660

Duffy, J. T. (2010). A heroic journey: Re-conceptualizing adjustment disorder through the lens of the hero's quest. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 29(4), 1-16. doi:10.1521/jsyt.2010.29.4.1

Evans, K., Tyrer, P., Catalan, J., Schmidt, U., Davidson, K., Dent, J., & ... Thompson, S. (1999). Manual-assisted cognitive-behaviour therapy (MACT): a randomized controlled trial of a brief intervention with bibliotherapy in the treatment of recurrent deliberate self-harm. Psychological Medicine, 29(1), 19-25.

Fanner, D., & Urquhart, C. (2008). Bibliotherapy for mental health service users part 1: A systematic review. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 25(4), 237-252. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2008.00821.x

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. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2008.00791.x

Finfgeld, D. (2000). Use of self-help manuals to treat problem drinkers. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 38(4), 20-35.

Janaviciene, D. (2010). Bibliotherapy process and type analysis: Review of possibilities to use it in the library. Bridges / Tiltai, 53(4), 119-132.

Johnson, M. (2012). Bibliotherapy and journaling as a recovery tool with African Americans with substance use disorders. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 30(3), 367-370. doi:10.1080/07347324.2012.691042

Jones, J. L. (2006). A closer look at bibliotherapy. Young Adult Library Services, 5(1), 24-27.

Kaskutas, L. A., Borkman, T. J., Laudet, A., Ritter, L. A., Witbrodt, J., Subbaraman, M. S., Stunz, A., & Bond, J. (2014). Elements that define recovery: The experiential perspective. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(6), 999-1010.

Kilfedder, C., Power, K., Karatzias, T., McCafferty, A., Niven, K., Chouliara, Z., & ... Sharp, S. (2010). A randomized trial of face-to-face counselling versus telephone counselling versus bibliotherapy for occupational stress. Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 83(3), 223-242. doi:10.1348/147608309X476348

Leininger, M., Dyches, T. T., Prater, M. A., Heath, M. A., & Bascom, S. (2010). Books portraying characters with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(4), 22-28.

Levin, L., & Gildea, R. (2013). Bibliotherapy: Tracing the roots of a moral therapy movement in the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 101(2), 89-91. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.101.2.003

Liu, E. T., Chen, W., Li, Y., Wang, C. H., Mok, T. J., & Huang, H. S. (2009). Exploring the efficacy of cognitive bibliotherapy and a potential mechanism of change in the treatment of depressive symptoms among the Chinese: A randomized controlled trial. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 33(5), 449-461. doi:10.1007/s10608-008-9228-4

Lu, Y. (2008). Helping children cope: What Is bibliotherapy?. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 6(1), 47-49.

Macdonald, J., Vallance, D., & McGrath, M. (2013). An evaluation of a collaborative bibliotherapy scheme delivered via a library service. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 20(10), 857-865. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2012.01962.x

Mathers, A. D. (2014). Why teen books are excellent bibliotherapy tools. Canadian Children's Book News, 37(3), 4-5.

McCann, T. V., & Lubman, D. I. (2014). Qualitative process evaluation of a problem-solving guided self-help manual for family carers of young people with first-episode psychosis. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1), 15-32. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-168

McKenna, G., Hevey, D., & Martin, E. (2010). Patients' and providers' perspectives on bibliotherapy in primary care.Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 17(6), 497-509.

Mihalopoulos, C., Vos, T., Pirkis, J., Smit, F., & Carter, R. (2011). Do indicated preventive interventions for depression represent good value for money? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45(1), 36-44. doi:10.3109/00048674.2010.501024

Moldovan, R., Cobeanu, O., & David, D. (2013). Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild depressive symptomatology: Randomized clinical trial of efficacy and mechanisms of change. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 20(6), 482-493. doi:10.1002/cpp.1814

Morgan, J. P., & Roberts, J. E. (2010). Helping bereaved children and adolescents: Strategies and implications for counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(3), 206-217.

Müller, S., Rohde, P., Gau, J. M., & Stice, E. (2015). Moderators of the effects of indicated group and bibliotherapy cognitive behavioral depression prevention programs on adolescents' depressive symptoms and depressive disorder onset. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 751-10. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.10.002

Myers, J. E. (1998). Bibliotherapy and DCT: Co-constructing the therapeutic metaphor. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76, 243–250.

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.

Norcross, J. C., Santrock, J. W., Campbell, L. F., Smith, T. P., Sommer, R., & Zuckerman, E. L. (2000). Authoritative guide to self-help resources in mental health. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Pardeck, J. T. (1998). Using books in clinical and social work practice: A guide to bibliotherapy. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press.

Prater, M. A., Johnstun, M. L., Dyches, T. T., & Johnstun, M. R. (2006). Using children's books as bibliotherapy for at-risk students: A guide for teachers. Preventing School Failure, 50(4), 5-13.

Reeves, T. (2010). A controlled study of assisted bibliotherapy: An assisted self-help treatment for mild to moderate stress and anxiety. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 17(2), 184-190. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2009.01544.

Regan, K., & Page, P. (2008). "Character" building: Using literature to connect with youth. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 16(4), 37-43.

Robertson, R., Wray, S., Maxwell, M., & Pratt, R. (2008). The introduction of a healthy reading scheme for people with mental health problems: Usage and experiences of health professionals and library staff. Mental Health In Family Medicine, 5(4), 219-228.

Rohde, P., Stice, E., Shaw, H., & Gau, J. (2015). Effectiveness trial of an indicated cognitive-behavioral group adolescent depression prevention program versus bibliotherapy and brochure control at 1- and 2-year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(4), 736-747. doi:10.1037/ccp0000022

Rohde, P., Stice, E., Shaw, H., & Gau, J. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral group depression prevention compared to bibliotherapy and brochure control: Nonsignificant effects in pilot effectiveness trial with college students. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 55(1), 48-53. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2014.02.003

Sharma, V., Sood, A., Prasad, K., Loehrer, L., Schroeder, D., & Brent, B. (2014). Bibliotherapy to decrease stress and anxiety and increase resilience and mindfulness: A pilot trail. Explore-The Journal of Science and Healing, 10(4), 248-252.

Shechtman, Z. (2009). Treating child and adolescent aggression through bibliotherapy. New York: Springer.

Silverberg, L. I. (2003).  Bibliotherapy: The therapeutic use of didactic and literary texts in treatment, diagnosis, prevention, and training. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 103(3), 131-135.

Skutle, A., & Berg, G. (1987). Training in controlled drinking for early-stage problem drinking. British Journal of Addiction, 82(5), 493-501.

Songprakun, W., & Mccann, T. (2012). Evaluation of a cognitive behavioural self-help manual for reducing depression: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 19(7), 647-653. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2011.01861.x

Sweeney, M. (2008). Reading and reckoning in a women's prison. Texas Studies in Literature & Language, 50(3), 304-328.

Thompson, E., & Trice-Black, S. (2012). School-based group interventions for children exposed to domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 27(3), 233-241. doi:10.1007/s10896-012-9416-6

Tolin, D. F., Diefenbach, G. J., & Gilliam, C. M. (2011). Stepped care versus standard cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A preliminary study of efficacy and costs. Depression and Anxiety, 28(4), 314-323. doi:10.1002/da.20804

Turner, J. (2008). Bibliotherapy for health and wellbeing: An effective investment. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(2), 56-61.

Walwyn, O., & Rowley, J. (2011). The value of therapeutic reading groups organized by public libraries. Library & Information Science Research, 33(4), 302-312. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2011.02.005


Highlighted Articles

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.
This article presents a meta-analysis of 22 studies on the effectiveness of self-help techniques, including bibliotherapy, in the treatment of alcohol problems that have been conducted over the past three decades. Small to medium positive effect was found in bibliotherapy patients as compared to the control group that received no treatment. The authors conclude that bibliotherapy presents a cost-effective option for the treatment of drinkers seeking help in reducing their consumption of alcohol. 

Brewster, L. (2009). Reader development and mental wellbeing: The accidental bibliotherapist. Australasian Public Libraries  and Information Services, 22(1), 13-16. 
In this article, Brewster places bibliotherapy within a longstanding tradition of librarians matching the right book to the right reader at the right time.  Using the same professional techniques that help them to serve and respond to the needs of all their readers, including collection development and readers’ advisory skills as well as expertise in leading book groups, Brewster notes that librarians are well-situated to serve in an unofficial capacity in the facilitation of bibliotherapy treatment. 

Levin, L., & Gildea, R. (2013). Bibliotherapy: Tracing the roots of a moral therapy movement in the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 101(2), 89-91. 
In this article, the authors trace the origins of bibliotherapy in the United States from early writings by one of the nation’s founding fathers, Doctor Benjamin Rush, who recommended the use of reading in the treatment of psychiatric patients, all the way up to its present role in today’s hospitals.  Providing a fascinating look back at the long history of bibliotherapy, the article presents it as a treatment that has truly stood the test of time, one that represents a tried and true means of helping patients suffering from a variety of ailments.    

Macdonald, J., Vallance, D., & McGrath, M. (2013). An evaluation of a collaborative bibliotherapy scheme delivered via a library service. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 20(10), 857-865.
This article reports on Read Yourself Well, a bibliotherapy program designed to help adults with mild to moderate mental health problems.  Delivered through a public library, the program treated patients referred by their general practice doctors, local social welfare agencies, and those who were self-referred.  Results of the study, which included more than 150 participants, showed that members showed significant improvement by the end of the program, including individuals from all three referral routes, both men and women, and both those who were already library users and those who joined specifically  to participate in the program.        

Walwyn, O., & Rowley, J. (2011). The value of therapeutic reading groups organized by public libraries. Library & Information Science Research, 33(4), 302-312.
This article examines the benefits of bibliotherapy conducted as part of reading groups at public libraries.  Conducting  interviews with fourteen participants, the authors report that participants were very positive about their experiences. They highlighted a number of benefits, which generally fell into one of two groups, relating to reading (and, more broadly, access books), and group interaction.  The experiences of participants were found to lead to increased self-assurance and self-esteem and were also correlated with increased social inclusion and economic activity. 


Other LibGuides on Bibliotherapy


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