Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Bibliotherapy for Depression

How reading can enhance wellbeing.

Key points

  • Bibliotherapy is a creative expressive art that offers research based benefits.
  • Engaging in bibliotherapy brings on emotional and cognitive shifts.
  • Bibliotherapy can help reduce symptoms in subclinical and mild depression.
Source: Serani
Source: Serani

Bibliotherapy is a creative arts therapy, where the reading of books can help a child or an adult move through emotional experiences. From fiction, non-fiction, poetry or pictures books - a good dose of literature can provide support, education and greater well-being.

Historically, bibliotherapy first appeared as a term and a book reading experience in the Atlantic Monthly in 1916. Later, in the 1930's, librarians began compiling lists of books and other written materials that could help individuals with trauma, thoughts, feelings or behaviors for therapeutic purposes. The key premise of bibliotherapy is that readers begin to identify with a particular character in the book, or deepen their understanding of symptoms of depression, or learn more about the science behind mental health.

Types of Bibliotherapy

There are a 5 types of bibliotherapy.

  1. Creative bibliotherapy: A group experience, where fiction, nonfiction, poetry or other forms of literature are pre-read and discussed by the group. Think book club.
  2. Developmental bibliotherapy: An educational experience, used at schools or in homes, where fiction or nonfiction is used to help explain human development. Think birds-and-the-bees teaching moments.
  3. Prescriptive bibliotherapy: A clinical experience, where books are used to help teach, modify, shift or acquire newly learned skills. Think Dialetical Behavior Therapy, etc.
  4. Therapeutic bibliography: Where fiction, poetry or nonfiction books are recommended as additional reading alongside traditional psychotherapy. Think reading "Wishful Drinking" while addressing one's own addiction in therapy sessions.
  5. Informal bibliotherapy: Where you, the reader, choose a book that speaks to you and what you're dealing with in life.

Benefits of Bibliotherapy

Engaging in bibliotherapy brings on emotional and cognitive shifts. Studies report many positive outcomes, including reduction of negative emotions, deepening insight, increased empathy and compassion, greater social connection, heightened awareness, more successful problem solving, just to name a few. Even during COVID, bibliotherapy was shown to help children and adults feel more grounded emotionally and physically about the pandemic.

When it comes to depression, research reports that bibliotherapy can ease subclinical or mild depressive symptoms. It is not solely recommended as a therapy for individuals who have moderate or severe symptoms of depression. While you can use bibliotherapy in creative, developmental, prescriptive and therapeutic ways, you can also find success reading informally.

Tips for Using Informal Bibliotherapy

1) Do a "need" inventory. What is it that you'd like to know about your depression? Diagnosis? Traditional treatments? Experimental treatments? Maybe you want to read a fictional story about someone living with depression. Or might a memoir or biography be of interest? Zero in on the issue so you can streamline your bibliotherapy search.

2) Librarian or Google. Now that you know what theme you're looking for, consider going to your local library and finding a librarian who can guide you to the best books. Or, if you prefer a less social approach, do an online search for books on the subject.

3) Set aside time. Once you have your book, make time to read it. You don't have consume it all in one sitting. Find your style and pace your reading so you experience the book. Take notes if you light. Highlight passages too.

4) Quiet your mind and reflect. After you've completed reading, still your mind and reflect on what you've learned. Whether it's new information, tips or techniques, give yourself space for them to find a comfortable place within you.

5) Reach out if reading isn't enough. Though bibliotherapy is a meaningful experience, sometimes it doesn't completely offer all the help you need. If so, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for further support.

More from Deborah Serani Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today