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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 4)

June 24th, 2010

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  Can it help us?   Do we change because of it?   Those that have faith in the power of the written word believe that indeed we can be positively affected by reading literature that give us a different view of the world.   When these changes enhance the quality of life, the science of psychology would file it under the heading of bibliotherapy.   Unlike reciprocal story telling, this form of bibliotherapy can be utilized by a large group of professional and laypersons.   Look to your librarian, your teacher, your parents, your best friend, your spouse or even yourself and you may find a practitioner who has been involved in bibliotherapy and didn’t even know it, or identified the process through some other vernacular.   To attempt to create a comprehensive list of subjects that might be covered successfully by the individual interested in books with a bibliotherapeutic benefit would be pure folly.   Some subjects might be more pervasive, but the available material is potentially endless.   If literary themes are endless, are too the benefits also endless?   Can anyone name all the different ways that any given human being can grow?   Add to this, a list of persons who might be the recipients of these benefits and what you will have is a quantity that has grown exponentially into a number too large to fathom.   In fact, one could argue that every person on this planet could be a patient involved in reading thinking, growing, and healing.   When bringing to life this powerful force of bibliotherapy, there is always a need to consider the subject matter, potential benefits and audience.

A library is a hospital for the mind.

~ Anonymous ~

The Grieving Child

            The child who has suffered the loss of a loved one through the finality of death may be a child who is locked into a confusing world of emotions.   While most children are resilient and grieve in a way that allows them to move forward in a healthy way, there are others that find themselves trapped in to behaviors and emotions that they can not begin to unravel.   For these children it is important that we realize how unresolved grief can adversely affect their lives.   Some may be come distant, reclusive and severely depressed.   Other’s shows their pain through aggressive or bizarre behavior.   Eating disorders, self-mutilation, work-a-holism and other manifestations have been documented in children who have been unable to accept or grieve the death of a loved one.   The burning question then becomes:  How to we best help these young souls?   The tools available to the caring adult, be they teacher or parent or therapist are numerous.   One way may be to allow expression of unacknowledged pain through the reading of fiction.   These stories would hopefully contain characters, situations, worries and emotions that the reader can identify with.   It is worth noting that it is not universally accepted that reading fiction of this nature holds any value.   The few studies that are out there often contradict each other, with some showing great potential and other falling short of offering any sustainable improvement for the individual.   But for the believers, some stories have brought to its readers a catharsis.   They find some relief from the emotional tension that was created by an unbearable loss.   Even if at first the relief is fleeting, once there is an opening of the mind there exists the possibility that further liberation is possible.  

Stories of Death: For Children?

To use books rightly, is to go to them for help;  to appeal to them when our own knowledge and power fail;  to be led by them into wider sight and purer conception than our own, and to receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinions.

~ John Ruskin

1819-1900

            How death is presented in children’s books has gone through a historical metamorphosis like many forms of literature.   Certainly Christianity and Christian sensibilities were at the forefront of concern when dealing with death during the 1800’s and some of the 1900’s.   However, since about 1960, children’s books show less of the directly Christian morality and pious sentimentalism of the late nineteenth century.    As fiction brings to our children more and more stories based in reality, how much is too much?   To offer up a heavy dose of life’s pain and trouble finds many objecting to the destruction of childhood innocence.   Others contend that we underestimate a child’s ability and their need to understand and experience all of life, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.   And through what better vehicle than literature?   So there has been a birth of children’s literature that contains heretofore-taboo subjects that is written for all readers, not just those who may “need” to read about death, divorce or illness.   For the general reader or for the reader with a goal in mind, the book must be first and foremost a good book.

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