Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 7)
Should the shelves of our high school libraries house novels about the struggles of a lesbian teenager or novels about pregnancy where abortion is considered as a viable option? As teenagers near adulthood their understanding of their world grows and expands. Sex, violence, and drugs top the list of subjects that can lead to disagreement when evaluating literature that deals with these critical teenage themes. Rape, incest, drug-addicted parents, domestic violence, and other subjects offend many and encroach into taboo territory. Authors whose literature pushes at the edges of their craft may make invoke responses of disapproval to outrage. Even if these topics are too hot for a school board to handle, the children who might benefit from a quality book whose plot line mirrors their life controversial thought it may be would be the losers should they miss the opportunity to make a positive connection through literature.
No one saves us but ourselves;
~Nancy Wilson Ross~
General Literacy and its Effect on Youth
Depending upon how bibliotherapy is defined there is another aspect that bears consideration. It is included here because of the sheer power it brings to the individual who benefits from it. Reading reading anything from a good book, the newspaper, or the directions on a condom wrapper is dependent upon the readers ability to well. read. Common sense tells us that the literacy rate of any given population is likely to be tied to the quality of their lives. Literacy abilities are often categorized using a leveling system that ranks from a low of 1 to a high of 5. Sadly, 21% to 24% of Americans are considered functionally illiterate, having been assessed in the range of level 1. The state and federal inmate population is in even worse straights with fully 40% of being functionally illiterate (level 1). It is worth noting that 70% of all inmates were ranked at level 2 or under. Compare this number to the 48% of the general population that score in the level 2 or lower range. Can this comparison be used to further justify the need to raise the literacy rates of our population? Is it such a stretch to conclude that the ability to read improves people lives? If we accept that premise, could we then extrapolate that there would be a reduction in crime? If so, as the dominos continue to fall, could the reduction in crime reduce inmate populations? Well, as a Mark Twain once said, “There are statistics and then there are damned statistics. ” The wisdom of those words makes a simple answer nearly impossible to pin down. However, in general research does support the idea that an increase in the literacy of our population would be connected with the statistical probability of reducing crime and incarceration. Offering educational opportunities to individuals already housed in our state and federal prisons as a means to reduce recidivism is a trickier issues and the data on that subject is conflicting. Bibliotherapeutic effect of improving the reading ability of our general population is well highlighted by the examination of our prison population when contrasted to the general population. Life quality as it relates to reading level has many other connections and the comparison offered here between the inmate and general population is but one. The correlation between literacy and income level is well established. There is also a strong link between low literacy levels and poor health. So while literacy levels, don’t at first blush, seem to fall neatly into a therapeutic goal, the statistics tell a different story.
The Power of Reading
Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.
Bibliotherapy cuts a broad path when it’s meaning is examined. Stories without books, stories with books, and books just for the sake of books dot the landscape. Each venue holds the potential to use literature as a way to improve the quality of life. If children and adolescents can connect to the literature they read, they may be well served by the insight and comfort they receive from the experience. In addition, if children and adolescents are blessed with significant literary abilities they may improve the overall quality of their lives. To read is to gather knowledge. To gather knowledge is to learn to think. Learning to think leads to better decision-making. Better decision-making leads to a healthier, happier life.
Philpot, Jan, Bibliotherapy for Classroom Use. Tennessee: 1997
Cuddigan, Maureen and Hanson, Beth. Growing Pains: Helping Children Deal with Everyday Problems through Rreading. Chicago: 1988
Jones, Eileen. Bibliotherapy for Bereaved Children. London: 2001
Brandell, Jerrold. of mice and metaphors. New York: 2000
Gardner, M. D. Therapeutic Communication With Children: The Mutual Storytelling Technique.