Using Bibliotherapy in Ministry

Bibliotherapy is a ministry tool with which you may not be familiar. While Teach One Reach One Ministries does not advise lay people to diagnose or treat potential mental health issues, Bibliotherapy has uses outside of those functions that can be helpful in ministry to children and teens. Briefly, Bibliotherapy uses books to encourage young people to share and perhaps better understand their emotions – especially regarding confusing or traumatic events.

In ministry, one of our objectives is often to help kids express their thoughts and emotions about life and how God impacts their lives. We also want to help them process the things that happen to them and their choices through a “God lens” — trying to see things the way God sees them. Bibliotherapy techniques can help those ministering to young people – if the books are carefully chosen.

The basic framework of Bibliotherapy is to choose a book or books that may generate a desired conversation. The book is then read to the child or in some cases the child may read the book independently. The book is discussed in hopes that the young person will be encouraged to share their own emotions or thoughts on the topic as well.

Pediatric hospital chaplains use Bibliotherapy as one of their tools in ministry. They will often offer the young patients three books from which to choose to be read to them. One is a book designed to help the child and the chaplain become better acquainted. One is a book that’s just for fun. The third book is a book about emotions or some aspect of what is happening to them, like being in a hospital. The child chooses how many books are read and which ones. As they are reading, the chaplain tries to engage the child in conversations that give the child an opening to share emotions, concerns or thoughts.

Of course in ministry, at least one of the books should be from a Christian perspective. Maybe you want to have a picture book on how God answers prayers or how much God loves us. The more knowledge you have of the child and the situation, the easier it will be to choose appropriate books. Not every book will resonate with every child. When a child is encouraged to share while reading a book, though, it can provide you with opportunities to teach, mentor, comfort and encourage that you might not have otherwise.

The biggest weakness in Bibliotherapy is that it is difficult to find lists of good secular books to use, and almost impossible to find a list of good Christian books. There are Christian books now that address a lot of common issues, but most are new. You will also want to pre-read any book, because publishers are known to label books as Christian which have decidedly non-biblical views in them. And while no one has mentioned using Bible stories in Bibliotherapy to my knowledge, some Bible stories would also provide a great launching point for discussing the deeper issues young people may be facing. If you find a good list of Christian books to use with kids or teens in Bibliotherapy or are interested in creating such a list, please let us know. We would love to share it with others!

The next time you visit a child you know is struggling, try a little Bibliotherapy. Don’t pressure him or her to talk, but listen actively if the child or teen decides to share. Sometimes a listening ear on a loving person is the best medicine of all!

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