Contributions of Research in Bibliotherapy to the Language Arts Program

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Russell, D. & Shrodes, C. (1950). Contributions of research in bibliotherapy to the language-arts program. The School Review, 58(6), 335-342.

I know this article is quite old, but after reading it I believe the scholarship holds up – not only does it show the history of the process of bibliotherapy, it provides accurate and informative advice in how to apply it, and it echoes scholarship that appears half a century later.

Russell and Schrodes begin by stating that using bibliotherapy in the classroom does not need these two things: a skilled therapist as teacher or a maladjusted individual needing treatment. They assume the teacher already has experience with the power of books with students, and capitalizing on this power to help with developmental problems takes their discussions from using books as literary devices to using them as bibliotherapeutic tools. As in many articles, the researchers talk about identification, catharsis, and insight as the three aims of bibliotherapy.

Identification is affiliating of yourself with the character in the book. Catharsis is feeling that you share the character’s situation and feeling their emotions/motivations/conflicts. Insight is having awareness of your own motivations and needs because of seeing it reflected in the reading material. This process may help break certain habits.

Quoting several other authors, Russell and Schrodes lists the values of bibliotherapy:

  • acquire information and knowledge about human behavior
  • help the individuals get to know themselves
  • increase the individual’s extroversion
  • help with unconscious fears/hardships
  • help identify and compensate
  • clarify hardships and gain insight into them
  • identifies with other person going through difficulties
  • sees there are other solutions to the problem
  • see other people’s motivations
  • gives a face to an issue rather than it being abstract
  • provides facts to problem solving
  • encourages readers to engage in a plan and act it out
  • gives an individual a safe place to discuss a problem they usually ignore due to fear or shame
  • helps analyze behavior patterns
  • gives vicarious lie experience without going through danger of real-life experience
  • reinforces acceptable social behavior
  • stimulates individual’s sphere of interests
  • helps the individual voice problems, externally
  • dispels sense of isolation
  • may give individuals deeper changes that are use to superficial changes

And all of this – they believe that ultimately, the readers will gain a greater sense of empathy – which causes the individuals to see the world differently, and actually enacts social change. (This idea is so brilliant, and true, as they have done research recently to reflect this fact, and I just find it delicious, and revolutionary.) Russell and Schrodes also find there is preventative help in this approach to literature, and by constantly reading and analyzing the interior dialogue of books and ourselves, one become more insightful by design, and instead of letting the developmental hardships that come along trip them  up, it would give a basic foundation of preventative growth to deal with neurotic tendencies.

I really enjoyed this article. It is chock full of helpful information, history, and the bibliography on it is stellar. (All bookmarked for later consumption…) I feel like in 1950 it was probably a fairly revolutionary look at teaching language arts, and using these tenants during a group discussion on empathetic matters is a lovely idea. It can be used in a library group or at a school.

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