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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

bibliotherapy noun [C,U]
the use of books and other reading materials in order to help people to overcome emotional and psychological problems

bibliotherapist noun [C]
bibliotherapeutic adj

‘Stories are and always have been powerful ways of communicating complex ideas. Indeed there are whole branches of serious therapy – bibliotherapy and narrative therapy – that use stories as starting points for analysis.’
(The Guardian, June 2002)

No, this doesn’t mean the opportunity to deface or tear up books in an attempt to release repressed frustrations, or positioning oneself on a pile of carefully arranged tomes in a yogic fashion for a feeling of well-being!

Bibliotherapy is posited as an alternative to medication or psychiatry, the idea being that a patient will be able to overcome the emotional turmoil associated with a real life problem by reading a story on that subject.

Patients begin by identifying with a book character or events in a story and become emotionally involved such that they are able to release pent up emotions and identify possible solutions to both their own and the book character’s problems.


Emotional repair through books is not a new idea and can be traced right back to the days of the first libraries in Greece. The term bibliotherapy dates as far back as 1919 (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary) and has been widely used in America since the 1970s. In 1986, the term bibliotherapist became an approved federal job classification. In the same year, the St Elizabeth Hospital in Washington DC was one of the first institutions to appoint someone with this job title. Bibliotherapy has been making an impact in the UK since the 1990s, and recently the Guardian newspaper (April 2002) reported its innovative use in such far flung library locations as Batley, West Yorkshire.