About bibliotherapy

In the most professional texts, in connection with the definition of bibliotherapy, we usually encounter the basic information that the word bibliotherapy is composed of two words of Greek origin: “biblion” = book and “therapeia” = treatment. Based on the etymology, we could define bibliotherapy simply as a book treatment. However, the content of this term has gradually changed since 1916, when the term first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, and the original expression, which can be considered more of a narrower definition, is already outdated today. In the literature, we find various broader or narrower definitions of bibliotherapy, which is caused by different points of view and the involvement of several professions – be it doctors, psychologists, educators, nurses, librarians, theologians, educational or social workers.

In connection with the treatment of mental disorders in clinical practice and the medical environment of patient care, bibliotherapy was often considered an auxiliary technique of psychotherapy (Kondáš, 1985), a psychotherapeutic method (Hartl, 1994 in Pilarčíková Hýblová) or a part of psychotherapy (Hartl, Hartlová , 2010 in Kaščáková, Kováčová, 2020). Only some authors mentioned its wider application in other areas such as schools, special educational institutions, retirement homes or correctional educational institutions.

Integration of therapeutic and educational efforts

In this project, we are working with the therapeutic-pedagogical definition of bibliotherapy according to doc. PaedDr. Katarína Majzlanová, PhD., who emphasizes the integration of therapeutic and educational efforts. According to this author and at the same time the founder of the bibliotherapy course at the Faculty of Pedagogy of the Comenius University in Bratislava, therapeutic-pedagogically oriented bibliotherapy is defined as follows:

“Medicine-pedagogically oriented bibliotherapy is a deliberate, systematic, systematic and purposeful medical-educational training of individual components of literary expression on endangered, sick, disabled or disturbed individuals in such a way as to help objectively improve or adjust their overall condition through the adjustment of the current state. Bibliotherapy as a communicative method that can serve as an interaction agent and stimulator of emotional, ethical and social development.” (Majzlanová, 1995 in Harčaríková, Lopúchová, 2018, p. 195). 

With reference to the joint contribution of the author with the author of this article (Kotrbová, Majzlanová, 2021), it can be added that bibliotherapy can also be applied to healthy individuals, couples, families or groups as a preventive measure as a tool for psychohygiene and personal and professional growth.

Thanks to doc. Majzlanová, bibliotherapy was created as a separate study subject in the curriculum of the renewed master’s degree in the field of therapeutic pedagogy in the period after the so-called the velvet revolution in the 1990s, in addition to basic study subjects from medicine, psychology, pedagogy, social sciences, philosophy and methodology, and additional study subjects, which are art therapy, drama therapy, ergotherapy (work therapy), music therapy, psychomotor therapy, play therapy , occupational therapy, psychotherapy and family therapy. According to the statement of another author, in terms of the concept Doc. Bažány and Prof. Dobrotka, therapeutic pedagogues studied more of psychotherapy, art and other therapies in combination with teaching in comparison as psychologists as a part of their university studies, so that not only the necessary high-quality psychodiagnosis but also therapy was ensured in practice (Špániková, 2022).

Developmental, preventive and clinical goals

The cited definition of Majzlanová, K. (2018) includes not only preventive and therapeutic or medical aspects, which are expressed by the words “disabled, sick, endangered individuals”, but also social aspects “threatened, disturbed individuals”, which are in the definition authors named as target groups of bibliotherapy, but also “therapeutic-educational” aspects, not only therapeutic (medical, psychotherapeutic) and not only educational/developmental aspects (pedagogical), but overall simultaneously therapeutic and simultaneously educational – in the broadest sense of the adjustment of the individual’s condition. Probably for the purpose of highlighting the possibilities of multidimensional (bio-psycho-socio-spirito) action of bibliotherapy, the author deliberately does not define whether it is the adjustment of the mental, health or mental state as part of the health, social state as a whole, which allows a wider interpretation as well as its wider application, which is fully in line with current international trends.

Types of bibliotherapy by genre

In her definition, the author Majzlanová, K. (2018) also offers a broader view of the “matter” through which therapeutic-educational work is carried out, when she uses the phrase “individual components of literary expression”. Thus, it is possible to work and act therapeutically-educationally not only through a literary work as a whole, such as a novel, short story, fiction, fairy tale, poem, self-help book, etc., but only its parts – such as individual words, sentences (aphorisms, nursery rhymes, verses of poems, etc.), even in some cases only individual letters/graphic form of sounds (such as in letter games) or sounds (audio form of letter games). From there, it is possible to derive other well-known classifications, which we could label as individual subcategories of bibliotherapy, such as paremiological therapy (aphorisms, proverbs, sayings, etc.), poetry therapy, fairy-tale therapy, hagiotherapy (bibliotherapy with the application of religious texts), narrative therapy, etc. (Majzlanová, 2017).

Independent reading in the spirit as well as joint reading aloud, storytelling, recitation and written speech

The definition of Majzlanová, K. (2018) with its broader conception – using the phrase “literary expression”, which can include both literary expression read and written expression – is also more in line with professional practice, where in addition to the receptive one, the expressive component of bibliotherapy is also applied. As we know, not only one’s own reading “in the spirit” but also joint reading out loud, recitation, creative writing (one’s own creation of literary works), but also writing therapeutic diaries or therapeutic letters and other creative expressive techniques are common routines of bibliotherapy. In view of the above arguments, we can consider the author’s therapeutic-pedagogical definition of bibliotherapy, disregarding the term “disturbed” used at the time, which we consider to be outdated, not only at the time it was created (1995), but also today as very progressive.

However, since the used word “literary”/”literary” still rather emphasizes the graphic form of sounds, words, sentences or the overall statement, it is possible to propose an extension of the definition in the sense that instead of the words “literary expression” the action of “verbal expression” would be used “. And not only because some authors (Bettelheim, 2017, p. 37) emphasize, based on the results of their own professional practice, that “it is more healing to have a fairy tale told to you than to just read it or have it read to you”, but also because that other authors consider storytelling to be a common and recommended part of bibliotherapy (Koníčková, 2019).

Literary art and self-development books

Although bibliotherapy also uses non-fiction literature (encyclopedias, dictionaries, self-help books and other similar popular educational literature) to a certain extent and depending on the educational and therapeutic goals, the main emphasis is placed on a specific way of interpersonal communication through artistic language tools that mediates contents that would not be communicable without the use of these means (Kulka 1990).

Literary art (lyrics, epics, drama) as one of the oldest and most developed arts, which includes oral verbal tradition as well as modern short stories, fairy tales or novels, uses comparisons, personifications, metaphors, for the purpose of this specific communication of experiences in aesthetically arranged forms (Kulka 1990), metonymies, hyperboles, diminutives, synecdoches, poetic epithets, symbols, poeticisms, archaisms, dialectisms, euphemisms, antonyms and others, which are related to the meaning (semantic) level of the conveyed information, which leads the reader or listener directly to the content (prose). And this also includes rhymes, refrains, anaphora, epiphora, alliteration, epizeux and others, whose primary function is to convey the sound form of human speech to present an emotional experience or evoke a certain image in imagination (poetry).

Creating images through language

According to the already quoted Kulka (ibid, p. 325), while in the case of fine art, music and dance, mediated sign meanings are created only during the reception process, a literary/verbal artistic text works immediately in the first semantic plane, because it uses the mother tongue and thus it leads the reader or the listener from language directly to the artistic image (ibid, p. 341). Art makes reality, experiences, dreams and desires visible… and thus turns to the totality of a person’s psychic powers – reason, feeling and will – and reorganizes them through its action.

Understanding, insight, abreaction and catharsis

In view of the now proven findings from neuroscience, which confirm that the brain and actually the entire human body reacts to ideas as to reality (Goleman, 2017; Doidge, 2017), it can be concluded that the involvement of the imagination, which is present in bibliotherapy, enables working with previously unconscious contents in a gentle and kind way using the artistic means of language and in a safe therapeutic relationship enables insight to be gained, supports the processes of abreaction and catharsis. This knowledge, which is applied in bibliotherapy, as well as in therapeutic pedagogy, is the basic starting point of psychodynamically and cognitive-behavioral oriented psychotherapy.

Educational and health challenges

Bibliotherapy, as one of the creative artistic activity therapies in therapeutic pedagogy, is both a therapeutic and an educational method that uses various forms of work with verbal/literary work/speech in therapeutic-pedagogical practice, helping individuals, couples, families or groups in difficult personal and crisis relationship situations. It provides relief from anxiety, is effective in the treatment of certain mental disorders or conditions, self-harm, addictions, behavioral disorders, as well as problems with eating disorders. Pennebacker (2013) reports on its successful use in the treatment of pain, oncological and cardiovascular diseases, as well as reducing stress and anxiety during pregnancy.

Self-expression, creativity, activity, relaxation and relief

As part of supporting development and growth, bibliotherapy helps, for example, with problems with self-expression and by empathizing with the “role” of the hero, also with difficulties related to a low level of empathy. It develops the ability of self-awareness, better acceptance of oneself and others, problem understanding and problem-solving skills, improves the quality of social relationships and decision-making processes, strengthens resilience.

Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-development, cultivation of higher feelings and values, meaning of being

Bibliotherapy represents help in accompanying a person in the application of his updating tendency, especially in the search for his internal resources to handle unpleasant situations, to recognize and use one’s own personal and relational resources that help in self-development, to support self-confidence, self-esteem and self-help. In practice, feelings of relief were noted after bibliotherapy, there was an increased openness to experiencing happiness, deeper knowledge, awareness and wisdom, the cultivation of higher feelings and values ​​such as – compassion, goodness, loving-kindness, beauty, humanity, ethics, etc., which contribute to an easier grasping the meaning and fulfillment of human being.

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Špániková, Jana. 2023. Informácie z neštruktúrovaného interview s liečebnou pedagogičkou a psychoterapeutkou PaedDr. Janou Špánikovou, PhD. made on March 8th 2023. [Unpublished interview with medical pedagogue and psychotherapist PaedDr. Jana Špániková, PhD.] (author’s archive) Private ambulance of therapeutic pedagogy and psychotherapy Teraviva, Májkova street, Bratislava, 2023-03-08.

PhDr. Kvetoslava Kotrbová, PhD., MPH
Faculty of Pedagogy, Comenius University in Bratislava, Department of Therapeutic Pedagogy
In Bratislava, February 12th 2023.

Recommended citation method:
Kotrbová Kvetoslava. 2023. About bibliotherapy. In Kotrbová, K. et al: Biblioterapia.sk. Bratislava: PRO SKIZP – Association to support the development of the Slovak Chamber of Clinical Physics, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Pedagogues, 2023.  ISBN 978-80-974667-0-1 Available on: https://www.biblioterapia.sk/en/about-bibliotherapy/

It didn’t pass language editing!

The contribution was created thanks to support from the European Union Erasmus+ program, Key action 2 – Cooperation between organizations and institutions, KA210 – Small partnerships for cooperation in the field of education and training. Project name “Prototype of online study tool for bibliotherapy”, project number 2022-1-SK01-KA210-VET-000082483. It represents the opinion of the authors and neither the European Commission nor the author is responsible for any use of the information contained therein.