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The Benefits of Bibliotherapy

Emily Stoltzfus, MSW

May 15, 2023

Have you ever read a book that brought you to tears, made you laugh out loud, or

inspired you to make a personal change in your life? Stories have the power to impact our

thoughts and emotions in significant ways. Stories can also be used therapeutically when the

process is guided by a mental health professional. This process is called bibliotherapy.

Bibliotherapy entails the use of literature to address social, emotional, and behavioral struggles

that can help meet a client’s therapeutic goals.

This past year I worked in a school setting. There were multiple children on my caseload

with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Due to their common struggles with

impulsiveness, paying attention, and having low frustration tolerance I often incorporated

activities into our session that were active and hands-on. Teachers had spoken to me about their

students with ADHD getting easily distracted during storytime and either tuning out or

distracting other children in the class. I wanted to find a way we could practice the skill of

reading while still making it active and engaging for the child.

One book I used frequently with students is called Beautiful Oops!, written and illustrated

by Barney Saltzberg. This best-selling and interactive book illustrates the simple idea that

mistakes are okay and can be turned into something beautiful. The author shows that a smudge

and a smear “can make magic appear” when a finger smudge is turned into the nose of a bunny.

He shows that a torn piece of paper is just the beginning when the tear becomes the mouth of a

crocodile. The book is full of pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, and holes to keep the child engaged and involved throughout the reading experience. The book illustrates the normalcy of making

mistakes and the beauty that can come of it.

Oftentimes an activity is selected after reading the story to help the child connect to the

story’s themes and gain a deeper understanding of the emotions that the characters are

experiencing. In the case of Beautiful Oops!, I would have the child reflect on a time when they

became frustrated about a mistake they had made. Together we contemplated the different kinds

of feelings that can come from making a mistake, as well as identifying appropriate vs.

inappropriate behaviors due to that frustration. I then introduced a drawing activity based on the

book. I gave them a paper divided into 4 quadrants, each quadrant with a different unidentifiable

blob, spill, or scribble. They had the opportunity to look at these “mistakes'' and turn them into

something else. I’ve seen children get very creative and turn these scribbles into rainbows,

turtles, or even something as specific as the side profile of their grandma.

Bibliotherapy can be an engaging way to work with children on behavioral and emotional

struggles by tapping into the power of stories to heal. Sometimes stories can put words to

something we didn’t have the ability to articulate or fully understand before. The children have a

chance to dive into a story, experience and resonate with a character, and connect to deeper

themes that will help them to create positive changes in their lives.

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