Bibliotherapy for adults is a form of self-administered treatment in which structured materials provide a means to alleviate distress. The concept of the treatment is based on the human inclination to identify with others through their expressions in literature and art.
Fictional bibliotherapy (e.g., novels, poetry) is a dynamic process,
where material is actively interpreted in light of the reader's
circumstances. From a psychodynamic perspective, fictional materials are
believed to be effective through the processes of identification,
catharsis and insight. Through identification with a character in the
story the reader gains an alternative position from which to view their
own issues. By empathizing with the character the client undergoes a
form of catharsis through gaining hope and releasing emotional tension,
which consequently leads to insights and behavioral change.
After the term bibliotherapy was coined by Samuel Crothers in an August 1916 Atlantic Monthly article, it eventually found its way into the medical lexicon.
By the 1920s there were training programs in bibliotherapy. One of the
first to offer such training was the School of Library Science at
Western Reserve University followed by a program at the University of
Minnesota School of Medicine. Hospital librarians were at the forefront of bibliotherapy techniques.
E. Kathleen Jones, the editor of the book series Hospital Libraries, was
the library administrator for the McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
This influential work was first published in 1923, and then updated in
1939, and then 1953. Pioneer librarian Sadie Peterson Delaney
used bibliotherapy in her work at the VA Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama
from 1924 to her death in 1958. Elizabeth Pomeroy, director of the
Veterans Administration Library Service, published the results of her
research in 1937 on the efficacy of bibliotherapy at VA hospitals.
The United Kingdom, beginning in the 1930s, also began to show growth
in the use in of reading therapy in hospital libraries. Charles
Hagberg-Wright, librarian of the London Library, speaking at the 1930
British Empire Red Cross Conference, spoke about the importance of
bibliotherapy as part of "curative medicine" in hospitals. In addition,
reports from the 1930 Public Health Conference about bibliotherapy were
included in the British journal Lancet.
With hospitals taking the lead, bibliotherapy principles and practice
developed in the United States. In the United Kingdom, it should be
noted, some felt that bibliotherapy lagged behind the US and Joyce
Coates, writing in the Library Association Record, felt that "the
possibilities of bibliotherapy have yet to be fully explored" .
In 1966, the Association of Hospital and Institution Libraries, a
division of the American Library Association, issued a working
definition of bibliotherapy in recognition of its growing influence.
Then in the 1970s, Arleen McCarty Hynes, a proponent for the use of
bibliotherapy, created the "Bibliotherapy Round Table" which sponsored
lectures and publication dedicated to the practice.