Bibliotherapy can enhance personal insight, provide information, suggest alternatives, diminish isolation, clarify emerging values, stimulate discussion and extend the counselling process outside of traditional settings

The article envisions a new international bibliotherapy project, linking libraries with mental health work, youth work and carrier counselling. Particular attention is given to how bibliotherapy, expressive activities and counselling facilitate young clients to find solutions to personal problems, develop life skills and enhanced self-image.



In the age of the information society mass media floods youth with virtual relationships and commons, false identities and patterns of distorted values. There is a lack of real and valuable human interactions, reflections, and good problem solving models. As Dave Verhaagen (2010), a clinical child and adolescent psychologist argues, there has never been a young generation that is so imbued with new technology in their daily lives than this current one, which poses unique challenges to the parents, teachers, therapist and every responsable adult who try to help and educate them as real human beings. Adolescents and young adults relate through technology in unprecedented, immediate, continuous and often simultaneous ways. By high school there is no limit to their ability to use technology to get relationships, have fun and collect information. However, it happens many times that they stay online for hours per day, stucked in virtual worlds and hundreds of "friendships " on Facebook, meanwhile they don’t have too many real-world relationships. In this deeply technicized environment it is hard to find, maintain and manage human relationships, hard to find relevant solutions and answers, hard to learn competent attachment and problem solving, empathy and tolerance, hard to recognize and share emotions. In these circumstances it is crucial to improve social and emotional skills, independent exploration, and support the competent sharing of personal experience. The improvement of self-expression, writing and oral communication skills is also a high priority. Expressive language art activities as biblio/poetry therapy are potential solutions, helping youth to learn about and cope with social or emotional struggles and developmental needs. (Béres, 2015) When employing bibliotherapy and counselling techniques, we intend to achieve the following objectives:

1. Develop relationships with youth that are based on acceptance and trust.

2. Assess youth abilities to understand work-life balance themes and identify their own present and future needs.

3. Help youth to learn new or alternative strategies for dealing with challenges and coping with problems.


Effective use of bibliotherapy can enhance personal insight, provide information, suggest alternatives, diminish isolation, clarify emerging values, stimulate discussion and extend the counselling process outside of traditional settings. (Pehrsson, McMillen, 2006)

Biblio/poetry therapy works with a wide range of recommended fiction and non-fiction materials:

  • fiction books and texts – imaginative literature and tales (e.g. poetry, short stories, novels, drama, folk tales)

  • other imaginative genres (e.g. popular song lyrics, theme-appropriate movies, therapeutic stories)

  • non-fiction (e.g. self-help books, autobiographies, online self-help resources, documentaries) (Mazza, 2003; Norcross, 2013)


The selection of suitable materials is based on factors including age, cognitive ability and social/emotional challenges of young clients. The right text or other material fosters common thinking and discussion about a certain topic, guides the youth to a deeper understanding of themselves, develops self-knowledge, social and emotional skills, broadens understanding of diversity, develops sensitivity. (McCulliss, Chamberlain, 2013)

The aforementioned materials should be integrated in our work to help youth gain insight into themselves by connecting with characters and values. Helper professionals as facilitators (librarians, teachers, youth workers, bibliotherapists, school counselors) have a crucial role in this process as young readers involvement must be followed up with individual or group discussion. During this interactive process youth have the opportunity to share ideas and feelings through the expression of their subjective response, shaped by their identity and personal life-experience. Biblio/poetry therapy and counselling aims is to elicite change in the attitudes and behavior of the clients to enhance their problem-solving skills, and hence increase their resourcefulness. Expressive techniques should be involved in this interactive work. The most well known expert of this field, James W. Pennebaker, a psychologist specialising in language and cognition, has conducted controlled clinical research on the effectiveness of reading and writing with traumatised children and youth. According to Pennebaker’s definition, it is called as expressive writing aiming to help people to confront deep, personal issues, promoting psysical health and subjective wellbeing. This methodology is based on the application of a powerful and deeply personal writing, a tool to ‘translate’ into language disturbing emotional experiences people suffer from. Expressive writing, therapeutic stories and metaphors can transform young clients’ ideas of themselves and their future lives, improve their externalisation of selfhood, so they can exist more comfortable in the world while feeling their internal being has connected to the outside world through language arts, books and stories. (Pennebaker, Evans, 2014; Burns, 2005)


Bibliotherapy Project Vision

During the springtime of 2016 we start a 2-year-long project within the Interreg Central Europe Program. This program is part of the European Union’s cohesion policy and will co-finance cooperation projects to strengthen regional innovation. The overall objective is to cooperate beyond borders in central Europe to make our cities and regions better places to live and work. Our project that targets the youth and young adults aims to respond to this call with the creation of an international consortium. Until now, in the preparational phasis of the project, we involved three types of the potential participants: librarians and bibliotherapists from partner institutions; youth workers, social workers and bibliotherapists from NGOs and national bibliotherapy associations; bibliotherapy experts and psychologists from partner universities.

Our idea is to take innovative techniques such as bibliocounselling and facilitated self-help as a dominant tools to create a learning system and a database that can be implemented and applied regionally, and can give an added value to our youth libraries, universities and NGOs.

Our final goal is to initiate a joint effort in Central Europe for development of innovative techniques and their regionally applicable versions, and with the help of the databases we create we expect to be able to determine the best practices for all the regions involved in the project.


What do we intend to support?

  • bibliocounselling applied within youth work provided by libraries and NGOs – handling stress, preventing depression, enhancing creativity, better job performance with the help of reading lists, reading group activities, creative trainings, living library events
  • career guidance for youth in youth libraries, schools and NGOs to determine the competence for a chosen “best fit” field/profession; help to enhance the skills and form the mindset of both career starters and unemployed so that they can be more successful in job hunting
  • training and supervision guidelines: ethical and effective use of bibliotherapy within the counselling and reader development context requires professionals’ education and training (workshops and toolkits from Finnish, British and Hungarian bibliotherapist practitioners)
  • bibliotherapy database building: Open access to knowledge for everybody in national language. Preparation of annotated bibliographies, collection and translation of suitable materials; full-text professional articles, pilots, case studies.


We are open to cooperate with youth librarians from the Central European region (including all regions from Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, 8 Länder from Germany, 9 regions from Italy) who are willing to be involved in this work.



Dr. Judit Béres, PhD
Assistant professor, scientific chief of the bibliotherapy continuing education program
University of Pécs, Hungary, Faculty of Cultural Studies, Education & Regional Development, Dept. of LIS

[email protected]



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Counselling Programmes of the University of Oxford

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Harvey, Pam: Bibliotherapy use by welfare teams in secondary colleges. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35 (5) 29-39. 2010.

Lowenstein, Liana (ed.): Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children and Teens: Parctitioners Share Their Most Effective Interventions. Toronto: Champion. 2008.

Mazza, Nicolas: Poetry Therapy: Theory and practice. New York: Brunner-Routledge. Kindle Edition. 2003.

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Norcross, John C. et al.: Self-Help That Works. Resources to Improve Mental Health and Strenghten Relationships. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP. 2013.

Pennebaker, James W. & Evans, John F.: Expressive Writing: Words that Heal. Idyll Arbor. Kindle Edition. 2014.

Pehrsson, Dale-Elizabeth & McMillen, Paula (2006). Competent Bibliotherapy: Preparing Counselors to Use Literature with Culturally Diverse Clients. Oregon State University – American Counseling Association.

Student Counselling booklists and webpage recommendations from the University of Edinburgh

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