Attempts are sometimes made by therapists to change faulty attitudes and to influence poor motivation in certain patients through the assigned reading of articles, pamphlets, and books. By these measures the patient is helped to understand how personality is evolved, why adaptation breaks down, the manifestations of collapse in adaptation, and how psychotherapy may help repair the damage.
What to expect?
Educational media that warn people of the disasters to children or to society of their reactions may mobilize counterreactions and actually exaggerate the existing problems. The manner in which reading materials are prepared and presented is important. If they apprise of the fact that all parents commit errors, that children are resilient and can stand many mistakes if they feel loved and respected, and that youngsters with even severe difficulties can change, readings may create a corrective atmosphere.
How does it works?
Bibliotherapy is of value chiefly to persons who have had little contact with psychotherapy and who require more information about emotional illness before they can admit of its existence in themselves or can recognize that beneficial results may be obtained from treatment. It may correct misconceptions about mental health, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. It is sometimes effective in correcting misconceptions through acceptance of written authoritative statements and directives that help the person to suppress inner fears, to gain reassurance, and to adopt socially acceptable attitudes and values. The latter influence makes bibliotherapy a useful adjunctive device in certain patients receiving psychotherapy. Patients may gain from readings a number of methods by means of which they may regulate their life, inspirational formulas that help in the achievement of happiness and success, and devices that permit of a regulation of those conflicts and strivings that are more or less under volitional control.
Indeed, the educational materials may be utilized by the patient as resistance, items being extracted out of context to justify neurotic patterns. The relative ineffectuality of reading materials in severe neurotic difficulties is attested to by the fact that scores of patients come to psychotherapy after having read more extensively from the psychiatric literature than has the therapist.
Nevertheless, bibliotherapy may help certain individuals to break through specific resistances and to gain limited insight, as, for instance, those patients who, unconvinced of the value of psychotherapy, require examples from the experiences of others of how therapy helps. Resistance to working with dreams may sometimes be handled by asking the patient to read books in which the rationale of dream interpretation is explained. A patient who has in therapy resolved crippling sexual inhibitions may be aided in achieving a more complete sexual life by reading appropriate materials dealing with marriage. Or a patient having problems with children may benefit greatly from books on child psychology. Personal involvement in short stories and case histories is also possible, and McKinney (1975) lists a bibliography that can be useful.
When is it used?
As a therapeutic medium, bibliotherapy is utilized in child therapy. Children readily get “caught up” in a story. A child identifies with one or more of the characters and releases emotional energy vicariously. This may result in greater awareness by the child of personal needs, feelings, and motivations (Ciancilo, 1965; Nickerson, 1975).
Role of therapist:
Advice on the handling of specific problems in adjustment, marriage, and child rearing may also be obtained from some reading materials which involves guidance of the therapist. On the whole, reading adjuncts will not prove to be remarkably corrective for the patient who is in reconstructive therapy. This is because no intellectual approach is of great service in modifying deeply repressed conflicts or in ameliorating symptoms that have strong defensive virtues for the individual.