Getting adolescents to talk about their problems or feelings can be challenging not only for parents, but also for the schools who see the teens daily as students. Anxiety, depression, and post –traumatic stress disorder can affect students’ abilities to be successful in the classroom. Students may find it harder to make friends or even concentrate during class. Some schools provide therapeutic support groups, but teens may worry about judgment from their peers or feel out of place in the groups. At Westborough High School in Massachusetts, a school librarian and a school counselor decided to try a different approach to support the students in their school. They introduced bibliotherapy where using storytelling and literature were ways to help the students not only understand their emotions, but better process them.
During the support group meetings, students discuss a book as a group or privately write about a book in their journals. The books can be used as a therapeutic tool for the students, since reading about a fictional character can help them normalize their own experiences or feelings. The group incorporates an activity to start like a breathing exercise or yoga. The students also participate in activities that are based on Dialectical-Behavior Therapy. The therapy teaches the students how to manage the intense emotions they may be feeling. The students go through role-playing exercises and act out the real situations they may have encountered during the week.
Bibliotherapy is a new mental health intervention for youth, but research is suggesting it really may help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially in youth. For many students, hearing the fictional stories in the books that related to their lives and discussing them in the group, allowed them to open up and feel the compassion of the group members. This in turn gave the students hope and helped them learn how to better manage their feelings. It is a therapy that is showing promise in adolescents and is worth a second look from school systems.
For schools interested in forming a bibliotherapy support group, please refer to: http://whs.westborough.libguides.com/mentalhealth/bibliotherapy
Lori Atkinson, Operations Director for The Kim Foundation
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools from 1992 – 2000, a stay at home mom for several years, and then started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory during 2010. Lori carries out many duties for The Kim Foundation which includes: scheduling presentations in the community, hosting booths at conferences, managing the Art & Creative Writing Contest, coordinating the School Resource Fair, organizing the Suicide Prevention PSA Contest, assisting with the annual luncheon, and participating in the coalition’s community outreach group. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.