Souls in Jeopardy: Questions and Innovations for Bibliotherapy With Fiction
Jonathan J. Detrixhe s s s
How is bibliotherapy with ﬁction hypothesized to work, and what are the ideal conditions for treatment success? Patterns in the bibliotherapy literature are explored. Questions are posed and suggestions offered regarding the practice of bibliotherapy with ﬁction.
s s s Authors discussing the subject of bibliotherapy commonly quote an inscription from the lintel of an ancient Greek library (Head, 2007; Riordan & Wilson, 1989; Zaccaria & Moses, 1968). The library decreed itself “the healing place of the soul” (Riordan & Wilson, 1989, p. 506), and by including this quote, authors hope to convey that the use of books as an aid to feeling better is not new, is ancient in fact, and if it was good enough for the Greeks, those eternal fonts of arts, letters, and wisdom in general, it should be good enough for us. However, in the intervening millennia, the study of bibliotherapy with ﬁction has not moved much beyond this pithy invitation. Yes, in some ways it seems natural to assume that because stories and poems give people so much pleasure and peace in daily life, they should have some psychotherapeutic application as well. Yet watching basketball also gives people pleasure and peace. Why not watch basketball in therapy? Why read ﬁction? In this article, I explore the potential of ﬁction as a medium of therapeutic change. I examine the basic premises underlying the theory of action, raise the current shortage of empirical support for the theory as a limitation, and provide suggestions for future research. Also, I challenge three basic assumptions of the theory regarding who is considered a good candidate for bibliotherapy, what types of books should be used, and what the therapeutic goals are. Finally, I offer a set of new ideas intended to advance the knowledge and practice of bibliotherapy with ﬁction. BIBLIOTHERAPY DEFINED The term bibliotherapy originated with Samuel Crothers in 1916 and refers to the use of books as healing tools (Pardeck, 1994). Following Crothers example, most writers on the subject keep their deﬁnitions broad, allowing
Jonathan J. Detrixhe, Department of Psychology, Long Island University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan J. Detrixhe, Department of Psychology, Long Island University, 1 University Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (e-mail: email@example.com).
58 © 2010 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING, EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
For example. p. nor does there seem to be any research devoted to the necessity or efﬁcacy of successful completion of the catharsis stage. Lee. with a therapist’s guidance. particularly direct didactic goals. 196). Riordan and Wilson (1989) wrote. p. Even though clients
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING.” the authors did not say. Pardeck (1994) later added to his theory. seeming to rule out the possibility of ﬁction as a therapeutic aid: Bibliotherapy is “a form of self-administered treatment in which structured materials provide means of self-improvement or help alleviate distress” (Gregory. 1997. 1984. This deﬁnition provides a clue as to how bibliotherapy might in fact “heal the soul” or at least augment therapy: A book can promote understanding and help individuals solve problems when it addresses their needs for improvement. clients become aware that there is a problem in their life and that a solution is needed. 196). Other authors propose four. 196). in the stage called “abreaction and catharsis” (Pardeck & Pardeck. temporary relief from suffering. highlighting additional beneﬁts of bibliotherapy. 500) or “the use of assigned readings” (Coleman & Ganong. that others share the same problems. 1984. They saw it working in three stages. p. Whether this is merely an evocative moment. p. come to recognize themselves in the life and problems of a character in a book. Furthermore. and Bernstein (as cited in Ahmann. Bibliotherapy is “helping with books” (Ahmann. 275). if the book is well chosen. Gange. Rudman. 506). Are ﬁction books “structured materials”? Are poems? How does a short story “provide means” for improved well-being? The problem seems to be that as the deﬁnitions become more speciﬁc. p. 1984. 1990. Little is said about this stage except that clients should respond to the story with some sort of passion. or a more technical “corrective emotional experience. 2004. Other deﬁnitions are more restrictive. 327). clients experience an “emotional release” (Pardeck & Pardeck. In the ﬁrst stage.or ﬁve-step models of basically the same process.room for use of both ﬁction and nonﬁction. & Wise. Clients may cry or express feelings that were previously bottled up (Ahmann. clients. books remind clients that they are not alone in their difﬁculties. 1984. Books offer an opportunity for clients to learn new values and ideas. “Bibliotherapy refers to the guided reading of written materials in gaining understanding and solving problems relevant to a person’s therapeutic needs” (p. they make more sense for the use of nonﬁction than of ﬁction. In the ﬁnal stage. MODELS OF BIBLIOTHERAPY WITH FICTION Pardeck and Pardeck (1984) might be considered advocates of the “classical view” of bibliotherapy with ﬁction. “identiﬁcation and projection” (Pardeck & Pardeck. it may suggest speciﬁc solutions to those problems. Expanding on the deﬁnition. Schwer Canning. p. 196). 1997) offered more detail on the catharsis stage. 500). Coleman and Ganong (1990) proposed some additional beneﬁts of bibliotherapy with ﬁction. p. Next. p. “insight and integration” (Pardeck & Pardeck. 1997. Also. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
readers may identify with the character and in so doing gain some awareness and understanding of their own motivations. they can learn certain “facts” (Coleman & Ganong.. Nevertheless. In recent studies. 2006). Furmark. a child experiencing depression in a stepfamily should read about a child experiencing depression in a stepfamily). (2004) concluded that the technique compares favorably with individual psychotherapy. In their meta-analysis of 29 outcome studies of cognitive bibliotherapy for depression. social phobia (Carlbring. Their rationale was as follows: “In reading about a character who is facing a situation similar to their own. whereas ﬁction and poetry remain “essentially unvalidated” (p. cognitive bibliotherapy has shown signiﬁcant treatment gains for individuals with depression (Bilich. 2006). In particular.. Deane. because this phenomenon is not limited to nonﬁction readers. In this modality. 1990. not interaction with the therapist (Shechtman & Nir-Shfrir. thoughts. and vaginismus (van Lankveld et al. et al. 327). 2004). clients read books. 507) for research into the usefulness of bibliotherapy. childhood anxiety (Lyneham & Rapee. 2006). Floyd et al. In their review of the bibliotherapy literature. Burns’s (1999) Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. that contain exercises and homework assignments designed to help them overcome negative feelings. thus far. 507). Ekselius. 2008). (2006) found that at the 2-year follow-up. such as David D. & O’Donohue. 2006). and feelings” (Coleman & Ganong. Bohmans. Barisic. p. Gregory et al. 2008). Spogen. & Andersson. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. the ancient Greeks did not appear to draw a distinction between ﬁction and nonﬁction. Unfortunately.. the use of prescribed reading materials in cognitive therapy has been the subject of many empirical studies (Gregory et al. p. 1990. 2008. The authors were particularly insistent that the content of books should match the clients’ situations (i. Bibliotherapy is particularly common in cognitive therapy because the active ingredient is thought to be program content. However. Naylor. Antonuccio. 1989. 327) about their situation. Phipps. in their pithy reference to the healing properties of books. 2008). some account of ﬁction’s potential role in therapy needs to be given as well. Steczk. the mere belief in ﬁction’s important place
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. Even researchers who focus on the use of ﬁction in therapy concede that research is lacking (Shechtman & Nir-Shfrir. Johnson. Shechtman & Nir-Shfrir. & Gould. panic disorder (Carlbring.are reading ﬁction. Other research has shown that the results are not long lasting.. 2007). EMPIRICAL SUPPORT FOR BIBLIOTHERAPY MODELS The majority of bibliotherapy research focuses almost exclusively on the use of nonﬁction (Riordan & Wilson. It seems that belief in and impetus for using books as an adjunct to psychotherapy is partly based on the fact that many people naturally derive great personal satisfaction from reading. Riordan and Wilson (1989) argued that self-help nonﬁction offers the “clearest and most consistent promise” (p.e. individuals with depression who were treated with bibliotherapy had signiﬁcantly more symptom recurrences than did other individual therapy clients.
and therapeutic change. On the basis of her qualitative outcome measures. low levels of empathy. 646) to start the ICB sessions may be viewed as a methodological shortcoming. the majority of important writings on bibliotherapy with ﬁction are long on theory but short on research. She then provided support for the idea that affect disorders are best addressed by an “integrative treatment orientation” (Shechtman. For example. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. p. insight. while the commitment to change stage relies on cognitive behavior methods. Shechtman (2006) deﬁned integrative treatment as a multistage model wherein the client (a) explores the problem. Unfortunately. and (c) commits to change (p. Also. p. Participants in the ICB condition experienced a “story. Coleman and Ganong (1990) have a very speciﬁc view of how bibliotherapy with ﬁction should be conducted. Perhaps aware of this deﬁciency. For example. However. 645). 2006. 2006. 328). 645). or film” (p. therapist satisfaction. However. They have argued that the client’s problems need to match those of the characters and that books must meet certain moral and aesthetic guidelines. Here. 646) at the beginning of their sessions. p. (b) gains insight. poem. they wrote. integrative counseling plus bibliotherapy (ICB). we see evidence for the use of fiction in therapy. Although this may have been true at the time. Shechtman (2006) investigated bibliotherapy as a mutative complement to the counseling of aggressive boys. she began by citing research suggesting that aggressive children have affect disorders that include symptoms such as high levels of emotional arousal. 2006.in the therapy room is held in higher esteem than the need to rigorously research the phenomenon. 1990. Only in the work of Shechtman does bibliotherapy with ﬁction ﬁnd a true believer and an empiricist. This lack of precision in describing the specific media chosen in the study is a problem because it implies that there are no process or outcome issues
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. and difﬁculties in self-expression (Shechtman. participants in the ICB condition showed greater gains in empathy. a guide to measuring and understanding insight. or ﬁlm” (Shechtman. poem. and no counseling. Shechtman’s (2006) use of a “story. p. Participants in Shechtman’s (2006) study were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: integrative counseling (IC). they have conducted no controlled experiments to test their views. although they stated that they have been using ﬁction with clients for over a decade. To establish her theoretical position. She has conducted at least six experiments since 1996 that include bibliotherapy with ﬁction as an experimental condition. 645). “Unfortunately. Shechtman found increased empathy and reduced aggression in participants in the IC and the ICB conditions as compared with those in the control condition. there are no valid measures to assess gains in insight or deeper understanding” (Coleman & Ganong. than did the participants in the IC condition. plus higher stages of change. The treatment is “integrative” because the exploration and insight stages slightly favor humanistic and psychodynamic techniques. Castonguay and Hill (2007) have since published Insight in Psychotherapy.
the concern extends beyond the matter of replication.
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. Bibliotherapy with fiction is exciting to many clinicians because it brings an essential element of the humanistic perspective—art!—directly into the therapy room. Shechtman has missed an opportunity to create excitement about her method. Furthermore. Are they really the same? Indeed. or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron. thereby gaining insight and moving toward change. In the following sections. Yet obviously it does because her experiment cannot be replicated if it is not known what the participants watched or read. Also. p. I reconsider three basic assumptions about bibliotherapy with ﬁction regarding who is considered a good candidate for bibliotherapy. Also.related to using books versus poems or films. 1991)—whatever. or Lord of the Flies (Golding. rather than assuming them to be true: Is identiﬁcation with the characters required for therapeutic change? What happens if the client does not recognize herself or himself in the character? Is catharsis or insight the mutative factor? Moreover. she proposed that identifying with a character in a book allays defenses by offering an indirect way to talk about challenging issues. and what the therapeutic goals are. 2006. it does not matter. future research in bibliotherapy should begin at the level of the theoretical hypotheses. it is unfortunate that when Shechtman (2006) discussed bibliotherapy and its place in her design. CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BIBLIOTHERAPY Although the identiﬁcation. insight. problem-solving paradigm currently dominates bibliotherapy theory and research. Use Goodnight Moon (Brown. this is what Shechtman seems to be suggesting. Clients can speak about what the character is going through and begin to see connections to their own problems. Now that Shechtman has taken the ﬁrst important steps toward establishing the efﬁcacy of bibliotherapy with ﬁction. I conclude with four suggestions for alternative therapeutic applications of bibliotherapy. 1984). To group books with films and not reveal what types of books or films are referred to is disappointing to fellow bibliotherapists. 645). She simply asserted that bibliotherapy aided in the ﬁrst two stages of integrative counseling by “reducing the level of defensiveness” (Shechtman. she did not cite other research. what type of books should be used. In line with Pardeck and Pardeck’s (1984) view. Characteristics of Good Candidates for Bibliotherapy With Fiction Bibliotherapy with ﬁction is generally viewed as an adjunct to child and adolescent rather than adult psychotherapy (Pardeck & Pardeck. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. 1975). understanding how a literary work helps a reader could increase the knowledge not only of bibliotherapy with ﬁction but also of aesthetics in general and of the human experience of art. because the results indicate that the therapy works. 1954). it seems that such a complex work of art as the book could have multiple applications.
this belief that stories are for children seems to be shared by both therapists and clients. claims of these beneﬁts need to be discussed and explored. he described instead a deep connection with a literary character leading to personal change over time. to feel empathically. In some sense. 1990. not only for others but also for oneself. such as the ability to recognize aspects of one’s self and one’s problems in the life of another. where personality. The idea is that bibliotherapy helps children achieve certain intrapsychic developments that adults were to have accomplished long ago. many may assume. moods. Coleman and Ganong (1990) encouraged both therapists and parents to explore the same books that they recommended to child clients. Unlike the actual people in Vargas Llosa’s life. will waste valuable time and effort. clearly suggest otherwise. and to problem solve by example. and wishes
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. Vargas Llosa experienced neither a onetime aesthetic experience nor a single moment of identiﬁcation leading to epiphany. Therapists may fear that their clients will balk at reading a story as a way to better understand what they are going through. plus risk infantilizing clients and minimizing their problems. suggesting that the explanation is supposed to be obvious. 388) for the title character of Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary. such as Leo Tolstoy’s (1877/2000) Anna Karenina or Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1938/2007) Nausea. Although these are certainly important skills for children to learn. 328). honestly portrayed stepfamily story can be informative and instructional for adult readers” (Coleman & Ganong. 388. desires. Surely their problems are too acute and need to be addressed in the here and now. the “kids only” perspective logically ﬂows from the theory. Reading ﬁction with adults. 328) graduate students to the problems their clients were facing. On the basis of their work with stepfamilies. p. Coleman and Ganong (1990) added that they often used ﬁction to “sensitize” (p.Little reasoning is provided for this view. surely not all adults have mastered them. They asserted that a “well-written. It also seems that bibliotherapy is considered to be limited to children because adult problems are thought to be too complex to be captured by a mere story. and to react emotionally. whose book The Perpetual Orgy describes his “love affair” with and “unrequited passion” (as cited in Baudry.) Also. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. Going beyond the didactic element. and too deeply rooted in their own intimate history for a ﬁctional narrative to provide any insight or relief. Novels of great psychological depth and complexity. on the basis of my experience. Yet what about identiﬁcation and insight leading to increased self-awareness—could an adult experience this type of personal growth through the guided reading of ﬁction? Baudry (1990) considered the interesting example of the writer Mario Vargas Llosa. p. Emma Bovary was always there for him. Emma was emotionally constant. as cited in Baudry. p. Because adult clients can potentially beneﬁt from bibliotherapy. “A ﬁctional character can be brought to life indeﬁnitely merely by opening the pages of the book and stopping at the right lines” (Vargas Llosa. 1990. In contrast to the mercurial world at large. and clients may indeed resist and feel misunderstood. 1990. However.
ebb and ﬂow. 388). Finally. p. I hope that Vargas Llosa’s case and the aforementioned examples suggest the removal of the healing power of books from the kids-only realm. one should ensure that the book matches the child’s reading level. art therapy) may be indicated. If either of these conditions is not met. it still seems that illiteracy or learning disabilities need not preclude bibliotherapy. during periods of anxiety or fear. otherwise. Also. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. Although research is required. Vargas Llosa was considering suicide. “If Pessoa can do it. as long as the story’s content matched the child’s level of comprehension. even if experienced on a smaller scale than Vargas Llosa’s relationship with Emma Bovary. and strength by example. Reading is both a mental and a physical activity. her husband Charles’s distraught reaction) helped him control those thoughts. movement therapy. In addition. A dear friend with depression told me that the subtly humorous and grimly existential poems of Fernando Pessoa have often staved off his thoughts of suicide. Also. familiarity with emotional constancy.g. and other treatments (e. I can do it. the character John Grady’s courage in Cormac McCarthy’s (1993) All the Pretty Horses. this seems to make sense. or other examples of heroism in literature. His own unique attributes—a passion for reading. as cited in Pardeck & Pardeck. a taste for life in those heart-rending pages. frustration will result (Pardeck & Pardeck. 1984). adjustment. 1984. psychic interaction with literary characters offers a host of beneﬁts to adult clients. as cited in Pardeck & Pardeck. a revulsion against chaos. Emma remained the same. p. To help satisfy the cognitive requirements. Surely adults are not immune to the kind of catharsis and identiﬁcation hypothesized by Pardeck and Pardeck (1984).” he said. not all children are considered good candidates for bibliotherapy with ﬁction (Lindeman & Kling.” Personally. Yet Vargas Llosa is not unique in having his life saved or forever altered by the act of reading. but reading about Emma’s self-poisoning and agonizing death (and also. “I’m not so bad off as he. A child could be read to. or developmental problems are seen as less likely to beneﬁt from directed reading than are those with more “minor” or “basic” (Lindeman & Kling.
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. “Each time [Vargas Llosa] found consolation and a sense of proportion. one imagines. including identiﬁcation leading to personal change. The ﬁctional suffering neutralized the suffering he was experiencing in real life” (Baudry. Vargas Llosa is perhaps an extreme example of adult bibliotherapy in action. the intellectual challenge posed by understanding a story might promote development. 195) problems. 1984).. it should be noted that according to the bibliotherapy literature. However. a child who cannot sit still might be encouraged to do so if the story was particularly interesting. a writer’s sensitivity to prose—allowed him to connect with the ﬁctional Emma on a level approaching a real human relationship. the child is unlikely to beneﬁt. At ﬁrst glance. Children with severe emotional. I recall the opening paragraph of Norman Mailer’s (1948/2000) The Naked and the Dead. 1990. It requires a certain maturity of cognitive processing as well as the ability to sit still for a period of time.
the issue of book selection is necessarily tied to the therapeutic goals. what book lovers love about books—the journey in their mind. rather than reading books wherein the character’s problems are similar and the solutions obvious. on the basis of their experience. tend to see adults as criticizing and directing rather than promoting self-understanding” (p. “When adults comment directly on children’s experience and motives. Here. Because
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. “soulful” experience—becomes a didactic exercise. So. reading—a cognitive and emotional. to be clear and brief. identiﬁcation may happen as a matter of course rather than through a series of psychic steps that promote a type of awakening. but what choice do they have? With too many rules. Also. the goal is to teach. If a character is initially led astray. Clearly. children. If the character is exactly the same as the reader. perhaps because of the way the rules attempt to force certain responses from clients. or in other words. a directive. especially young children. It is reasonable to assume that this caveat also applies to adult clients in the context of bibliotherapy. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. not to offend the religious beliefs or values of the reader. because it narrows the ﬁeld of possible active ingredients coming from the books themselves. Clients might as well attend a psychoeducational class on their diagnosis.Selecting Books and Understanding Goals for Bibliotherapy For Coleman and Ganong (1990). clients may beneﬁt from having their imaginations kindled. 328). Yet there is something frustrating about the strictness of their list. Also. it seems possible that the process of identiﬁcation—the effort to connect with the character—may be an essential component of the bibliotherapy experience. Caspary (1993) wrote. 328). books have far greater powers. The narrative and characters should reﬂect as accurately as possible the reader’s situation in order to promote learning and identiﬁcation. after all. their life choices questioned but not resolved. the reader may be encouraged to think beyond the bounds of personal experience and struggle with more universal issues. Coleman and Ganong (1990) prescribed not only clear-cut endings but also positive ones that set good examples. They believed that it was equally important that characters are shown making good decisions. The precision of their list of qualiﬁcations for books is perhaps a step in the right direction as far as research in this area is concerned. In coping with dissonance. In his discussion of analytic treatment with children. ﬁctive characters who make poor decisions and fail in their goals might have certain uses. their viewpoints challenged. he should eventually be shown choosing the correct path. However. sermonic approach entails certain risks. and to offer speciﬁc solutions to speciﬁc problems (p. to have “literary merit” (p. to be “realistic” (p. 328). This is. Coleman and Ganong (1990) believed that it is best for books to be set in modern times. Sure. For example. readers may identify with the characters. if the reader has the capacity to be thoughtful and engage in a discussion with the therapist. the issue of book selection is simple. For example. Also. 208). in their guidelines for selecting books.
249). and the task of reading becomes a relational stimulant for the client. 198). as Pardeck and Pardeck (1984) suggested. D. the didacticism implied by Coleman and Ganong’s (1990) insistence on happy endings risks telling readers what to do and criticizing them if they disagree. 202). the process of identifying requires recognition by readers that there are indeed similarities between themselves and ﬁctional characters. John Lennon’s assassin. p. however. Mark David Chapman. or an individual who is suicidal ﬁnd deep meaning in the poems of Sylvia Plath (e.. who took her
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. This ability to perceive the personal and subjective in another’s circumstance is not a psychological given. they insisted that the story match as closely as possible the life of the client. Plath. which can lead to much open-ended discussion between the child and the helper concerning alternative solutions to the problem” (Pardeck & Pardeck. In Caspary’s (1993) conception of child therapy. intellectualization rather than insight may occur. Even in their classic view of bibliotherapy. such as “everyone makes mistakes” or “that would never happen to me since I would do such and such.g. they wrote. they are for many of the authors discussed so far. it seems that matching the story to the client’s life risks oversimplifying the process and reducing the range of discussion. can still be useful even if they “have vague endings. clients may invent their own personalized message. Nevertheless. Pardeck and Pardeck (1984) saw the utility of not matching too closely or wrapping up too neatly. failure to empathize or connect with others may be an original source of clients’ problems. “insight is of relatively minor importance compared with relational factors” (p.” “The process of identiﬁcation and projection may therefore only serve to relieve the child of any responsibility for the resolution of the problem” (Pardeck & Pardeck. Also. Conversely. clients’ overidentiﬁcation with characters may occur. identiﬁcation presents its own set of challenges. bibliotherapy should also include identiﬁcation as an essential goal. famously identiﬁed with Holden Caulﬁeld from J. Thus. 1984.adults may believe that their problems cannot be adequately captured by a ﬁctional story. According to Brandell (1988). In addition to teaching values and problem-solving techniques. p. even if clients recognize themselves in a character. 208). indeed. For example. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. are identiﬁcation and insight really the ideal goals of bibliotherapy? Clearly. Salinger’s (1951/2001) novel The Catcher in the Rye. 1984. 2008). the speciﬁc content of the reading material becomes less important than the opportunities for interaction provided by the literature. “the therapist seeks to create a climate of trust and to establish a meaningful affective tie with the child” (p. Books. This reduces the importance of identiﬁcation with characters. First. Nevertheless. a facile resolution may conﬁrm their fears. So. If so. In fact. Struggling together over the meaning of a book or the choices a character makes could help establish such a tie. not always pleasant. it seems that a rebellious young person could beneﬁt from a discussion of Caulﬁeld’s experience. Thus. according to Coleman and Ganong (1990).
my supervisor raised an interesting question: Did I mention thoughtcrime to deepen and
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. A female teenage client was particularly excited by George Orwell’s (1950) 1984. I felt the need to draw her attention to certain concepts in the book. “What does it mean to you that we disagree about this book?” When asked by clients if I have seen this movie or read this book. If a client mentions a book and the therapist admits having read and enjoyed it. Yet a rupture of this sort might also serve a purpose because the therapist is now in the position to ask. To engage fully in the discussion and invite the client to identify more fully with Smith’s predicament. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. A client who feels passionately about the high-seas adventure novels of Patrick O’Brian is likely to experience an instant and deep afﬁnity with a therapist who has also mastered those same thousands of densely written pages. An O’Brian fan who learns that rather than bother with the book his therapist “just saw the movie” is likely to be disappointed. or risks sending the therapy in an intellectual as opposed to experience-near direction are important issues to consider. overspending on clothing. disagreeing with a client over the quality of a book could stress or harm the alliance. Whether this sort of connection violates neutrality. Thought Police. I am reluctant to immediately disclose. uniting with a client over a jointly favored expression mode seems potentially beneﬁcial. However.” a series of behaviors that took many costly forms. and Cult of Personality. By the same token. Her description of the narrative focused on the totalitarian state’s efforts to crush the main character Winston Smith’s spirit and her perception of Smith as a “loser” for “conforming” in the end. depending on the level of disclosure she or he is willing to make.own life. The depth of the connection is to some degree in the therapist’s hands. and I felt our connection deepen. ALTERNATIVE THERAPEUTIC APPLICATIONS OF BIBLIOTHERAPY WITH FICTION Books as Alliance Builders Therapists very likely use this alliance-building technique in bibliotherapy without recognizing it as such. This led to a discussion of the client’s self-described “nonconformity. I am ﬁrst interested in how clients might summarize the plot and which elements they pick out as special. The implication here is that books are complicated and people’s reactions to them even more so. a connection is made. I necessarily disclosed having read the book. The client’s delight when I ﬁrst said “thoughtcrime” seemed obvious. Insisting on identiﬁcation (just the right amount) and insight (just the right kind) imposes a simplicity on a process that is anything but. In so doing. and having unprotected sex. However. interferes with transference. it seems that because the goal of expressive therapy is unfettered verbal communication. Books can become the focal point of a kind of private club. including cutting. such as thoughtcrime.
the issue of discussing books with clients is complicated. A therapist could be similarly deﬁned. thus. Coleman and Ganong effectively limited projection. There is no room in such a method for the client’s unconscious experience. and by prescribing books that closely match the client’s life. association. it seems exceedingly rich. and behavior. as long as the content in some way catches the client’s interest.” If clients associate to a variety of story content. and my previous experience of the book made her offering seem more ordinary. An opportunity for an in-the-moment discussion of the relationship presented itself. In retrospect.
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. perhaps about what she or he would have done in the character’s circumstances. eliciting unconscious material permits a broader scope in the inquiry and. As a result. If insight is gained by identifying with a character. becoming more of a springboard into association and process. an opportunity for deeper awakening. the client’s feelings about my having read 1984 should have been explored in more detail. 82). using ﬁction books of almost any type is likely to aid the therapeutic endeavor. Also. the goal of bibliotherapy is clear. Thus. and fantasy. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. they converted bibliotherapy with ﬁction into a didactic endeavor similar to bibliotherapy with nonﬁction. The book itself plays a smaller role in this technique. Clearly. but I was too quick to assume that the client was pleased by our shared experience of Orwell. Kundera (1986/2003) deﬁned a novelist as one who pursues truth by seeking to unite reality and fantasy (p. However. the extent of the reader’s experience may be restricted to “I too have these problems. but as an opportunity for elaborating transference and expanding the alliance. both methods seek to promote insight. “hip” client? The answer is probably both. The goal here is similar to Pardeck and Pardeck’s (1984) classic view of bibliotherapy. I may have wanted to show off my knowledge of books and to make sure the client knew that I was just as well-versed in literature as she. the full breadth of their experience becomes the goal of the analysis and they are invited to identify with themselves. Perhaps she felt she was bringing something special to the therapy. Whether by directly identifying with the character or freely associating to story content. the therapist can encourage the client to associate to the material or fantasize. The reader must recognize that she or he and the protagonist share the same problems and that those problems can be solved in certain appropriate ways. Books as Keys to the Unconscious For bibliotherapists such as Coleman and Ganong (1990). Such reﬂections of unconscious material can then be explored in order to hypothesize about the hidden meaning of the client’s thoughts. particularly the opportunity to explore the client’s unconscious. only the route taken is different. As the material is discussed. feelings. This is unfortunate because bibliotherapy with ﬁction offers its own unique possibilities for healing.broaden the discussion or to seem “cool” and “on the level” to a young.
By reading and fantasizing in the presence of their therapist. and ultimately controlling potentially frightening thoughts. being the creation of its author. 1993). For example.A ﬁnal note on matching story material to client experience: Attempting to control literary content and thus client reaction is a battle no one can win. especially those on inpatient units. that special world for play and exploration that is exciting yet safe because it exists outside both the individual and reality (Winnicott. Books as an Emotion Engine Reisenzein (1983) cited studies of emotion in which an individual’s awareness of the emotional content of an experience is accentuated or wholly accounted for by a stimulus that is not present in the experience. 374). an essential period of practice before identifying. Spitz (1989) described a therapist reading with a client as being “like a violinist translating the notes of a score into audible sound and whose accuracy. running on a treadmill in situation A can heighten sexual arousal in situation
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. interpretive skill.” Still. EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT Spring 2010 Volume 49
. a cognition such as. this too happened to me. what can be more deleterious is that if the story’s structure is too simple. clients may experience a different way of coping with fantasy. is all make-believe in its ordering and unfolding. may spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts. playing with. remember that Caspary (1993) argued that insight is not necessarily the primary goal of therapy with children. Spitz (1989) emphasized the potential for therapeutic gains in “validating and privileging [children’s] inner worlds of fantasy” (p. When reading a story that is similar to their own. This implies that although matching tries to insert nonﬁction into ﬁction. p. Children. The therapist who reads with children can experience ﬁrsthand how they think and what form and quality their fantasies tend to assume. because “life can never be adequately captured in a reﬂected artistic image” (Baudry. Books as Fantasy Stimulants Although books may be a route to insight via the unconscious. 374). 354). as cited in Caspary. Also. 354). Baudry (1990) wrote. or problem solving can effectively occur. taking responsibility. “A novel. 1990. any attempt to do so risks reductionism. interpretations that necessarily express the reader’s own unique worldview. The story and the fantasies it inspires become like transitional space. clients may feel that their problems are poorly expressed or too easily overcome. “Yes. the attempt necessarily fails because the story remains ﬁctive. a new method for sitting with. The reader must make interpretations to understand the character’s behavior. Here. enthusiasm. and thus mocked. even if the novel is based on some actual event ” (p. timing and contact with the listener affect the reception of the music” (p. play itself becomes the goal. clients may experience a certain validation.
370–397. F.. It seems that the feelings generated by the story might ﬂow naturally into the therapy process. F. for Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987).). Watching a basketball game. Barisic. & Gould. L. 500–503.. NY: HarperCollins. Books for siblings of children having illness or disability. NY: HarperPaperbacks. Cameron. E. “most emotions of interest to humans occur in the course of our relations with others” (p. or the enjoyment of music is predicated by exposure to either positively or negatively valenced emotional material. Bohman. D. 5. Brandell. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. or dancing with a client. 61–74. Ekselius. M. New York. Terminator 2: Judgment day [Motion picture]. The goal was to entice buyers who were excited by the idea of experiencing strong emotions in private. P.12. So imagine reading a story that is exciting or otherwise emotionally provocative with a client. S. D.. Buhrman.. 241–257. L. Psychoanalytic Quarterly. Deane. E. Pediatric Nursing.. & Andersson. 41).2119
Journal of HUMANISTIC COUNSELING. Character in ﬁction and ﬁction in character. Brown. Brunt. Goodnight moon. Schafer’s (1983) terror and Teyber’s (1999) shame and guilt—might in this way be overcome. Effectiveness of bibliotherapy self-help for depression with varying levels of telephone helpline support. (1975). Feeling good: The new mood therapy (Rev. easing their passage down the road from solitary experiences of limited emotion to more potent encounters with the therapist.. (1988). 163. 59. (2008).. G. Yet surely decorum. an initial interface with their therapist through the middle ground of a book might be a way of adapting clients to a more interpersonal process. Westling. 15. P. Carlbring. G. Books offer the possibility of not only exciting clients but also comforting them. Phipps. A. R. if only temporarily..1176/appi. The increased technological focus of recent years may have promoted a more solitary lifestyle for humans wherein the “emotions of interest” are more typically kindled by various media formats.. (1997). A problem with this argument is the looseness of it. J. American Journal of Psychiatry.B. 23. J. and professional scruples dictate otherwise. M. L. M. Bilich. (1991). B. Advertisements for the video game platform Sony Playstation 2 emphasized the system’s advanced central processing unit called “The Emotion Engine” (Levy. New York. 2119–2125. listening to jazz. (Writer/Director/Producer). neutrality. This view seems controversial. Emotional resistance—for example. Baudry. Burns. B. (2006). REFERENCES
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