Bibliotherapy

A library is a hospital for the mind.
-Anonymous

* * *

Bibliotherapy means to use the reading of books as a way to heal yourself or solve a problem. Although it is often associated with "self-help" books, any kind of book, fiction or nonfiction, can be used. Bibliotherapy is a dynamic process, by which you "meet" the author in the pages of the book. As you read, a dialog begins to take place between you and the author. You interpret what you read in light of your own experiences, and thus become a part of the book.

Bibliotherapy as defined by the American Library Association is "the use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuncts in medicine and psychiatry; also, guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading." Anyone who has ever been completely absorbed or strongly influenced by a book understands the power of the written word. Bibliotherapy is the practice/art/science of taking that influence and constructively applying it to one's own life. It requires cooperation and desire on the part of the reader and skillful guidance on the part of the therapist, librarian, teacher, social worker or facilitator.  (I think INFJs tend to automatically self-medicate!)

Edwin Alston, a psychoanalyst, describes bibliotherapy's appeal in his article, "Bibliotherapy and Psychotherapy," Library Trends 11: 166-167 (October 1962): "In the world literature, there is plenty to meet every need and taste. It is easily and widely available, to everyone, at relatively little cost. A helpful or favorite book, unlike a passing conversation, relationship, or experience, can be referred to time and time again in the full and original form it had for the reader. The written word, which one can take or leave, is not as intensive as the spoken word, nor is the written word likely to have been as associated with demands or prohibitions and other anxiety-provoking experiences as the spoken word. Accordingly, many people can approach a book with minimal defensiveness and maximal accessibility. For many people, the written word has an exceptional authority and authenticity."

There was a great deal of interest in bibliotherapy among librarians and other professionals during the 1970's. However, as the focus on technology grew, interest in social services declined and bibliotherapy's popularity waned. Today, as health care becomes more expensive, more emphasis is being placed on alternative forms of therapy, cost containment and short-term treatments. Because bibliotherapy can provide didactic information to patients that has traditionally been obtained through psychotherapy, it is making a comeback in the "helping professions."

* * *

We read books to find out who we are.  What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.
                                               
-Ursula Le Guin

*

Simply stated, bibliotherapy can be defined as the use of books to help people solve problems. Another, more precise definition is that bibliotherapy is a family of technique for structuring interaction between a facilitator and a participant based on mutual sharing of literature (Pardeck, 1989).

The idea of healing through books is not a new one--it can be traced far back in history, from the days of the first libraries in Greece (Bibliotherapy, 1982). The use of books in healing, however, has been interpreted differently by classical scholars, physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, parents, teachers, librarians, and counselors. There is, in fact, confusion in determining the dividing line between reading guidance and bibliotherapy (Smith, 1989). And the vast amount of professional literature that is available on bibliotherapy (Eppele, 1989) naturally mirrors the point of view of the helping professional who wrote it and the field in which he or she is an expert.

 


DOES IT WORK?


Riordan and Wilson (1989), in a review of the literature of the effects of bibliotherapy, found that a majority of the studies show mixed results for the efficacy of bibliotherapy as a separate treatment for the solving of problems. They concluded that bibliotherapy generally appears to be more successful as an adjunctive therapy. Despite such mixed research results, however, interest in the use of bibliotherapy appears to have increased in the past few years. This most likely reflects the increase of societal and familial problems in the United States--rise in divorce, alienation of young people, excessive peer group pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, and so on. Educators have also begun to recognize the increasingly critical need for delivering literacy instruction to at-risk and homeless children and their families (Ouzts, 1991).

In addition, researchers Riordan and Wilson concluded that the explosion of self-help programs during the past decade has contributed to the rise in the use of bibliotherapy, in the form of popular self-help books, such as "What Color Is Your Parachute" and "The Relaxation Response." Books such as these are the prescriptive choice of most mental health professionals for their clients, rather than fiction or poetry, according to the two researchers. Is self-help (even directed self-help) really bibliotherapy? This popular practice underscores the confusion about defining the actual technique of bibliotherapy mentioned at the beginning of this digest.

 


WHEN SHOULD BIBLIOTHERAPY BE USED?


Bibliotherapeutic intervention may be undertaken for many reasons: (1) to develop an individual's self-concept; (2) to increase an individual's understanding of human behavior or motivations; (3) to foster an individual's honest self-appraisal; (4) to provide a way for a person to find interests outside of self; (5) to relieve emotional or mental pressure; (6) to show an individual that he or she is not the first or only person to encounter such a problem; (7) to show an individual that there is more than one solution to a problem; (8) to help a person discuss a problem more freely; and (9) to help an individual plan a constructive course of action to solve a problem.

Before undertaking bibliotherapy, however, a practitioner must remember that it is more than just the casual recommendation of a certain book to an individual--it is a deliberate course of action that requires careful planning (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

 


WHO SHOULD CONDUCT BIBLIOTHERAPY?


Whether you are a classroom teacher, a librarian, or a mental health professional, be advised that bibliotherapy must be handled with great delicacy, and not every practitioner possesses the personal qualifications to be a facilitator in the process. Those who are interested, however, should possess personal stability; a genuine interest in working with others; and the ability to empathize with others without moralizing, threatening, or commanding (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

In addition, Smith (1989) recommends working with another practitioner or authority in a different field. For example, if you are a language arts teacher, you might collaborate with the school librarian, a guidance counselor, or the school psychologist. This cooperation helps in balancing the process so that no one person is "in charge." Smith also feels that facilitators need to have a light-enough tone in discussing problems so that no one becomes upset, but a thoughtful-enough manner to allow for "comfortable discussion." She also feels that fictional works are best for discussion purposes because participants can talk about the characters in a book rather than about themselves (Smith, 1989). All parties must agree to the bibliotherapy, however. A recent study on generating reading interest in adolescents with handicaps (Klemens, 1993) found that the majority were not even interested in reading novels with handicapped characters. Most of the young people in the survey "seemed to view the term 'handicapped' in a very narrow sense and reject the word and anything to which it may be connected."

 


HOW SHOULD IT BE USED?


Arleen Hynes's book, "Bibliotherapy Handbook," is considered a good all-around introduction to bibliotherapy. It defines the types of bibliotherapy and details what the practitioner needs to know, including basic information on how to become a bibliotherapist (Smith, 1989).

Above all, books chosen by the practitioner should have literary merit--a poorly written novel with stereotyped characters and simplistic answers to complex questions is probably worse than not reading anything at all and can even leave children or young people with a negative view of literature. Reading quality literature, however, can be beneficial to students, even outside the context of bibliotherapy (White, 1989). A classroom teacher who really loves literature and who has a large collection of books is in a good position to conduct bibliotherapy, if he or she possesses the other necessary personal qualifications.

A practitioner must also decide whether an individual or a group therapy approach would be best in the particular situation. Individual therapy requires time-consuming one-on-one sessions, but some people feel freer to express themselves in a one-on-one situation.

For a classroom teacher, of course, the classroom could be seen as a natural group, and it would be a group easily broken up into collaborative units. According to Pardeck and Pardeck (1990), groups can be a powerful vehicle for helping to heal emotional problems. The Pardecks believe that a group approach to learning enhances the total child. The group approach allows members to share common experiences, thus lessening anxieties. It can create a feeling of belonging and can also provide security for individuals who might feel uncomfortable in situations where they are singled out for special attention. Working in a group may lead an individual to develop a different perspective and a new understanding of the problems of others (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

 


GUIDELINES


Regardless of whether the practitioner chooses the individual or group approach, the basic procedures in conducting bibliotherapy are: (1) motivate the individual or individuals with introductory activities; (2) provide time for reading the material; (3) allow incubation time; (4) provide follow-up discussion time, using questions that will lead persons from literal recall of information through interpretation, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of that information; and (5) conduct evaluation and direct the individual or individuals toward closure--this involves both evaluation by the practitioner and self-evaluation by the individual (Bibliotherapy, 1982).


ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication Digest #82
EDO-CS-93-05 June 1993


Related Resources: Bibliology

 


REFERENCES


Bibliotherapy. Fact Sheet (1982). Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. ED 234 338

Eppele, Ruth (1989). Reading Material Selection: K-12. Focused Access to Selected Topics (FAST) Bibliography No. 30. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. ED 311 394

Klemens, Lynne (1993). Are Handicapped Adolescents Interested in Reading Fiction with Handicapped Characters? M.A. Thesis, Kean College. CS 011 232

Ouzts, Dan T. (1991). "The Emergence of Bibliotherapy as a Discipline." Reading Horizons, 31(3), 199-206. EJ 421 220

Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1990). "Using Developmental Literature with Collaborative Groups." Reading Improvement, 27(4), 226-37. EJ 421 176

Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1989). "Bibliotherapy: A Tool for Helping Preschool Children Deal with Developmental Change Related to Family Relationships." Early Child Development and Care, 47, 107-29. EJ 401 179

Riordan, Richard J. and Linda S. Wilson (1989). Bibliotherapy: Does It Work?" Journal of Counseling and Development, 67(9). EJ 396 292

Smith, Alice G. (1989). "Will the Real Bibliotherapist Please Stand Up?" Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 2(3), 241-49. EJ 395 489

White, Richard (1989). Bibliotherapy and the Reluctant Student. ED 309 390

 


Digest#82 is EDO-CS-93-05 and was published in June 1993 by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication, 2805 E 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47408-2698, Telephone (812) 855-5847 or (800) 759-4723. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. Additional copies may be ordered by contacting the ERIC Document Reproduction Service at (800) 443-3742.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RI88062001. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

* * *

What is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy generally refers to the use of literature to help people cope with emotional problems, mental illness, or changes in their lives (Pardeck, 1994), or to produce affective change and promote personality growth and development (Lenkowsky, 1987; Adderholdt-Elliott & Eller, 1989). By providing literature relevant to their personal situations and developmental needs at appropriate times (Hebert & Kent, 2000), bibliotherapy practitioners attempt to help people of all ages to understand themselves and to cope with problems such as separation and divorce, child abuse, foster care, and adoption. This Digest will briefly review the history of bibliotherapy, summarize some approaches to its application, outline the basic stages of the bibliotherapeutic process, and will conclude by reviewing the benefits and limitations which have been observed in its application.

Historically, bibliotherapy dates back to the 1930s when librarians began compiling lists of written material that helped individuals modify their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors for therapeutic purposes. Counselors worked in conjunction with librarians to 'prescribe' selected literature for clients experiencing problems (Pardeck, 1994).

The underlying premise of bibliotherapy is that clients identify with literary characters similar to themselves, an association that helps the clients release emotions, gain new directions in life, and explore new ways of interacting (Gladding & Gladding, 1991). Teenage readers, for example, may feel relief that they are not the only ones facing a specific problem. They learn vicariously how to solve their problems by reflecting on how the characters in the book solve theirs (Hebert & Kent, 2000).

 


Some approaches in bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy practice has varied in approach and focus since it was first used in the 1930s. Traditional bibliotherapy, for example, tended to be more 'reactive' in its approach in that the process focused on getting individuals to react positively or negatively to the reading material. More recent approaches, however, assume that the therapeutic process is actually a more interactive one: the reader becomes part of the unfolding intellectual and emotional process of the story, and in struggling to understand what is being communicated at the deepest levels, the reader responds by making a positive alternation or modification in behavior or attitude (Myers, 1998). In interactive bibliotherapy, participants engage in activities that help them reflect on what they read, such as group discussion and dialogue journal writing (Palmer, et al., 1997; Anderson & MacCurdy, 2000; Morawski & Gilbert, 2000).

In clinical bibliotherapy and bibliocounseling, skilled practitioners use therapeutic methods to help individuals experiencing serious emotional problems. Classroom teachers are more likely to use developmental bibliotherapy, which involves helping students in their normal health and development. The advantage of the latter approach is that teachers can identify the concerns of their students and address the issues before problems arise. Students can also be guided through predictable stages of adolescence with knowledge of what to expect and examples of how other teenagers have dealt with the same concerns (Hebert & Kent, 2000).

Whichever approach it involves, bibliotherapy requires careful planning. It seeks to help clients respond directly to the materials they are given, so that change is effected through catharsis (a cleansing of the emotions, primarily through art), insight, or the "copying of character behaviors" (Gladding & Gladding, 1991).

 


Basic stages in bibliotherapy

Generally, activities in bibliotherapy are designed to:

  • provide information
  • provide insight
  • stimulate discussion about problems
  • communicate new values and attitudes
  • create awareness that other people have similar problems
  • provide realistic solutions to problems

The process goes through four basic stages (Pardeck, 1993): identification, selection, presentation, and follow-up.

During the first two stages, the clients' needs must be identified, and appropriate books selected to match their particular problems. The selection process takes skill and insight, as the books must provide correct information about a problem while not imparting a false sense of hope. The books must then be presented carefully and strategically so that the clients are able to see similarities between themselves and the book characters. Once the clients can identify with the main character, they enter the follow-up stage during which they share what they have gained. They express catharsis verbally in discussion or writing, or nonverbal means such as art (Sridhar & Vaughn, 2000), role-playing, creative problem solving, or self-selected options for students to pursue individually (Hebert & Kent, 2000). Once catharsis has occurred, the clients can be guided to gain insight into the problem.

The success of the bibliotherapy program depends largely on how well teachers or counselors play their vital role as facilitator throughout the whole process. Sridhar & Vaughn (2000) provide useful ideas on how teachers can get ready for the process, and what they can do before, during and after reading.

 


Benefits and limitations of bibliotherapy

In addition to the "how" of conducting bibliotherapy, practitioners also need to be aware of potential benefits and pitfalls associated with this procedure. Bibliotherapy has obvious value in that it provides the opportunity for the participants to recognize and understand themselves, their characteristics, and the complexity of human thought and behavior. It may also promote social development as well as the love of literature in general, and reading in particular (Gladding & Gladding, 1991). It reduces feelings of isolation that may be felt by people with problems.

The effectiveness of bibliotherapy, however, may be limited by the availability of materials on certain topics, as well as the lack of client readiness and willingness to read. Clients may also project their own motives onto characters and thus reinforce their own perceptions and solutions. In addition, participants may be defensive, thus discounting the actions of characters and failing to identify with them, or even end up using them as scapegoats. Some of these limitations can be overcome through the continuation of the process itself, role playing, and the use of group discussions (Gladding & Gladding, 1991). Facilitator limitations are also a challenge: facilitators may have limited knowledge of human development and developmental problems, and inadequate knowledge about appropriate literature. Facilitators thus need to be properly trained and exposed to a repertoire of literature suitable for use in bibliotherapy. One other limitation may lie in the bibliotherapy process itself: for example, clients may be unwilling to discuss areas that are uncomfortable, or facilitators may insist on making a point at the client's expense. The process is also limited if both the client and counselor stay on surface issues. These limitations can be addressed by suspending sessions until both parties are ready and willing to work, by taping and critiquing selected sessions so that facilitators can monitor their own reactions to certain clients or problem areas, and by revisiting issues in stories that have been treated superficially in previous sessions (Gladding & Gladding, 1991).

 


Conclusion

Bibliotherapy is a potentially powerful method for school teachers and counselors to use on many levels and in every school grade. In order to establish a strong bibliotherapy program in an institution, practitioners must present the procedure as a non-threatening one, starting by calling the process biblioguidance, for instance. They must also solicit the input and advice of colleagues, parents, and administrators. In addition, they must always be alert to the limitations of bibliotherapy.

 


For more information

Click here for bibliographies from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication

 


References

Adderholdt-Elliott, M. & Eler, S. H. (1989).Counseling students who are gifted through bibliotherapy. Teaching Exceptional Children. 22(1), 26-31. [EJ399150]

Anderson, C. M. & MacCurdy, M. M. (2000). Writing and healing: Toward an informed practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. [ED436788]

Gladding, S. T. & Gladding, C. (1991). The ABCs of bibliotherapy for school counselors. School Counselor, 39(1), 7-13. [EJ435466]

Hebert, T. P. & Kent, R. (2000). Nurturing social and emotional development in gifted teenagers through young adult literature. Roeper Review, 22(3), p167-171. [EJ606610]

Lenkowsky, R. S. (1987). Bibliotherapy: A review and analysis of the literature. Journal of Special Education, 2(2), 123-32. [EJ361026]

Morawski, C. M. & Gilbert, J. N. (2000). Developmental interactive bibliotherapy. College Teaching, 48(3), 108-114. [EJ614996]

Myers, J. E. (1998). Bibliotherapy and DCT: Co-constructing the therapeutic metaphor. Journal of Counseling and Development, 76(3), 243-250. [EJ573144]

Palmer, B. C.; Biller, D. L.; Rancourt, R. E.; & Teets, K. A. (1997). Interactive bibliotherapy: An effective method for healing and empowering emotionally-abused women. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 11(1), 3-15. [EJ559350]

Pardeck, J. T. (1993). Literature and adoptive children with disabilities. Early Child Development and Care. 91, 33-39. [EJ473213]

Pardeck, J.T. (1994). Using literature to help adolescents cope with problems. Adolescence, 29(114), 421-427. [EJ487572]

Sridhar, D. & Vaughn, S. (2000). Bibliotherapy for all. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(2), 74-82. [EJ614798]

 


Digest #177 is EDO-CS-02-08 and was published in December 2002 by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication, 2805 E 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47408-2698, Telephone (812) 855-5847 or (800) 759-4723. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. Additional copies may be ordered by contacting the ERIC Document Reproduction Service at (800) 443-3742.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number ED-99-CO-0028. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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A History of Bibliotherapy

     Bibliotherapy utilizes the written form of the word for healing.  It centers on the self-examination and insights that the process of

engaged reading gains.  The therapeutic use of reading is not a new invention, but one that has survived the test of time.  The concept of

healing through books goes as far back as ancient Greece where the door of the library at Thebes bore the telling inscription: “The

Healing Place of the Soul.”  The Greeks, famous for their tragedies, recognized the importance of plotting a story for maximum

therapeutic impact.  Aristotle endorsed this cathartic effect and claimed that the mere experience of a tragic story purged the audience of

illness, leaving them healthier and sounder of mind.*(14)  The tragic art of purging may have been exclusive to Greek culture, but the

basic idea of reading to cleanse pervaded the globe and continued throughout history.  An inscription very similar to the one in Thebes, “The Medicine Chest for the Soul,” is found in the medieval Abbey Library of St. Gall, in Switzerland.*(2)  The concept survived time and manifested itself in the modern era as an approach to behavior modification.  In nineteenth century America, such books as the McGuffey Readers and The New England Primer were used not only as teaching tools, but also as instruments to build character and develop positive values in students.*(17)  The notion that the personal exploration and self-discovery brought about by reading can lead to a healthier conduct carried on with the turn of the century.  The early 1900’s saw the birth of the first organized hospital libraries, which eventually led to widespread library service in all state institutions.  With this model in place, the American Library Association sponsored highly successful library programs to the armed forces in both World Wars.  This service aimed to help soldiers cope with wartime traumas and was extended during peacetime to aid in the healing of disabled veterans.*(2)  With developments in technology, medicine, and psychology, the extent of practiced therapies broadened, and bibliotherapy spread from the library into educational and psychosocial areas.  The emergence of counselors in schools led to recognition of the psychological impediments to learning, and in

many cases children were guided to solutions for emotional or behavior problems through prescribed reading followed by discussion.

Such developments upheld the use of bibliotherapy in libraries, homes, and classrooms and expanded its reach to the medical field as a recognized form of therapy.

A Definition of Bibliotherapy
 

    Although the concept of bibliotherapy has existed since ancient times and practiced throughout history, the term itself is of a more

recent origin.  The word bibliotherapy first surfaced in a 1916 issue of Atlantic Monthly, when essayist Samuel Crothers combined the

Greek words for book and healing (biblion/book, therapeia/healing or service) to describe the practice of prescribing books in the

treatment of illnesses.  The earliest formal definition of the term appeared in Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary in 1941: “The

employment of books and the reading of them in the treatment of nervous disease.”  Later works presented composite statements,

defining bibliotherapy as “a program of selected activity involving reading materials, planned, conducted, and controlled as treatment

under the guidance of the physician for emotional and other problems.”*(28)  Other interpretations depart from clinical aspects and

define bibliotherapy as “a process of interaction between the personality of the reader and imaginative literature which may engage his

emotions and free them for conscious and productive use.”*(24)  The officially recognized, current dictionary definition of bibliotherapy

reads, “the use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuvants in medicine and in psychiatry; also, guidance in the solution of

personal problems through directed reading.”*(2)  This vague description allows for a broad interpretation of the term bibliotherapy and

for the many variations of its application.  Classical scholars, librarians, counselors, teachers, parents, social workers, psychologists, and

physicians have all interpreted the therapeutic use of books differently, leading to inconsistencies in bibliotherapy’s sources, settings, and

applications.  Books used in bibliotherapy can be fiction or nonfiction and range from elaborate poetry to simple self-help manuals.

Therapeutic reading can take place in a variety of conditions ranging from guidance in the library or classroom, to formal psychotherapy,

to private, independently-directed or purely accidental self-help.  This treatment is utilized in both individual and group therapy with

people of all ages, with people in institutions as well as outpatients, and with healthy people who wish to share literature as a means of

personal growth and development.*(3)  This disparity creates confusion in determining the dividing line between the artistic use of books

for reading guidance and the scientific practice of bibliotherapy.
 
 

A Closer Look at Bibliotherapy
 

    The use of books in healing is very common.  A majority if people recognize the soothing effect of a good book, and many turn to

books as a means of escape, enlightenment, inspiration, or understanding.  Psychologists, health care professionals, and others often

recommend and use books in helping people cope with problems; but many lay persons also use self-help books to deal with issues

related to personal growth and development, and teachers and librarians facilitate reading to guide students and patrons in the resolution

of personal crisis.  So, what separates therapeutic reading from the ordinary reading that we do throughout the day?  And, who truly

practices bibliotherapy?  A thorough exploration and evaluation of the concept requires a clear understanding of engaged reading and a

distinction to be made between the art and the science of bibliotherapy:
 
 

Therapeutic Reading vs. Ordinary Reading

    The difference between ordinary reading and therapeutic reading lies in the intensity of the experience.  The underlying assumption of

bibliotherapy is that the act of reading to heal is an interactive process.  Researchers have identified two components of therapeutic

reading that separate it from ordinary reading: 1) The author engages the reader in a silent dialogue, and the reader becomes part of the

unfolding intellectual and emotional process of the book; 2) The reader must struggle to understand what is being communicated at the

deepest levels and, as a direct consequence of that communication,  responds by making a positive alternation or modification in

behavior or attitude.*(27)  Which books can the reader use to promote this therapeutic process?  Both fiction and non-fiction that is

used in the healing process must possess the following characteristics: the level of difficulty corresponds with the ability of the reader,

the circumstances parallel the reader's situation, the problems are portrayed realistically, and the tone or mood is compatible with the

reader's goals.
 
 

Bibliotherapy: Art or Science?

    With the understanding that bibliotherapy is a truly interactive process that goes beyond everyday reading, the broad variations of its

use further distinguish the therapy by separating it into two categories.
 

1) Art: The non-medically based use of reading to heal constitutes the function of bibliotherapy as art.  Under this category,

bibliotherapy materializes as a nondirective form of reading guidance or as a private means of self-help.  Non-medical practitioners of

the art, such as teachers and librarians, make available carefully selected texts for use by individuals in solving minor personal problems

or setbacks.  For example, a librarian might offer to a child struggling with the divorce of his parents a novel featuring a child protagonist

dealing with the same family problem.  In the book, the fictional child learns to cope by relying on peer support, personal

resourcefulness, and optimism.  Ideally, the student then identifies with the character, realizes he is not the only one dealing with the

problem, watches the character find a solution, and gains insight into his own situation.  Ultimately, the book becomes a model for

coping.  For a classroom teacher, the art lends itself best to a group approach.  Working with books in a group may lead an individual to

develop a different perspective on the problems of others and/or gain insight into his or her own personal struggles.  Individuals can also

utilize the art of bibliotherapy as a private, self-directed means of healing.  Reading for enjoyment and relaxation holds the power to

develop and strengthen wholesome attitudes, and the ability to obtain personal direction by choosing one’s own reading and losing

oneself in a book promotes a sense of personal power and identity.  Essentially, as an art, bibliotherapy is nondirective; it is the reader’s

choice to extract from the text what he or she finds relevant to personal emotions, issues, and goals, without any intervention by a

facilitator.*(10)
 

2) Science:  Unlike the nondirective guidance offered by practitioners of the art, scientific bibliotherapists must remember that

bibliotherapy is more than just the casual recommendation of a certain book to an individual—it is the deliberate course of action that

requires careful planning, medical knowledge, and psychological considerations.  The science of bibliotherapy is a directed therapy

defined as “a family of technique for structuring interaction between a facilitator and a participant based on the mutual sharing of

literature.”*(17)  The facilitator is a medical professional who generally uses a psychoanalytic approach in a one-to-one situation therapy

sessions.  Doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists first make a clinical diagnosis and then recommend books based on the patients

specific syndrome or illness.  In a typical case a psychotherapist might do one or all of the following: 1) recommend a book that

reinforces the psychotherapy; 2) use reading material as a springboard for discussion and analysis in a psychotherapy session; 3) give a

patient homework assignments based on the reading*(26)  While the art of bibliotherapy is a nondirective approach to resolving minor

personal problems, the science focuses on treating those who suffer from serious physical or mental illness under the close direction of a

medical professional.
 
 

The Process of Bibliotherapy

     Of all the factors involved in the dynamics of psychotherapy, those that apply to bibliotherapy are identification, projection, catharsis, and insight.  Caroline Shrodes explains:

Reading, like all other human behavior, is a function of the total personality.  When we read fiction, poetry, or drama, we perceive selectively in accordance with our needs, goals, defenses, and values.  Parallel in substance and function to the primary phases of psychotherapy, the vicarious experience induced by reading includes identification, projection and introjection, transference of emotion from early experience to current symbols of it, catharsis, and insight…Imaginative literature provides an external frame of reference which permits the reader to view his experience freshly from the perspective of the detached observer.  Being at once fantasy and reality, it permits the reader to be both participant and spectator.*(25)
Identification and Projection - the patient identifies with the character, events, or ideas presented in a text and relates his or her own situation to the reading.

Catharsis - the patient becomes emotionally involved in the story and is able to release pent-up emotions under safe conditions.  This outward expression, or purging, of repressed material allows for the development of insight.

Insight – after catharsis, the facilitator leads the patient in a constructive discussion of his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  Through this intervention, the patient becomes aware that his or her problems can be resolved, and the facilitator recommends courses of action in doing so.

Evaluating Bibliotherapy

     The popularity of bibliotherapy, both as an art and a science, is continuously increasing, and it is currently employed in a variety of

ways and by a broad range of people.  Even so, bibliotherapy must stand the test of empirical scrutiny to help both practitioners and

patients evaluate its usefulness.  Its widespread use may suggest that reading holds the power to heal, but the therapy’s value as an agent

of change has yet to be universally proved.  The many variations in bibliotherapeutic practice make it difficult to present definitive

statements about the therapy’s effectiveness, and a review of literature on bibliotherapy reveals that most studies on the subject indeed

show mixed results.

    Psychological research on the use of bibliotherapy has concentrated almost exclusively on highly specific how-to books and manuals

and largely ignores the role of fiction in healing.  A 1986 survey of psychologists revealed that 88.6 percent utilized self-help books in

therapy, recommending them most often for parenting, relationships, and personal growth; all respondents reported that such texts were

helpful, and none viewed them as harmful.  Other studies during the 1980’s also “suggest that behaviorally based readings are often

effective in treatment; consequently practitioners and others can use these kinds of materials with some confidence as an intervention

tool.”*(17)  While such research has consistently verified bibliotherapy’s value in behavior modification, the use of fictional texts

remains essentially unconfirmed with research showing a range of results from general ineffectiveness to positively successful

improvement.  Many studies look at bibliotherapy as a competing form of treatment, resulting in inconclusive data that obscures any

meaningful conclusions; and well-designed studies that isolate bibliotherapy as a main treatment or examine its effects when used with

other interventions are sparse.

    Despite mixed empirical findings, many practitioners recognize this influence and employ bibliotherapy in their work.  Riordan

summarizes the current state of clinical bibliotherapy as follows:

Many of us find colleagues of differing orientations using articles, books, chapters, poems, or other references to clarify, instruct, reinforce, or otherwise assist in therapy.  The pertinent issue is not really whether bibliotherapy is effective as a separate therapy, but rather what, when, and how it should be used as part of a treatment plan.*(20)
Though scientific studies of bibliotherapy are limited and inconsistent, research generally concludes that the therapy works most

effectively as an adjunct therapy to medicine and counseling. “In clinical practice, bibliotherapy is a tool—among many—to be used

when it can contribute to an overall satisfactory outcome.”*(20)  Bibliotherapy should not be viewed as a single approach to

psychological treatment but rather as a complement to other therapies.  When utilized properly, reading can provide powerful insight and

understanding and serve a valuable role in psychotherapy.  The art of bibliotherapy also proves beneficial to the pursuit of healing.  As

with most therapies, bibliotherapy is not a cure-all that will automatically influence attitudes or behaviors in the desired direction, but it

does have the ability to reach people who may not otherwise seek traditional help.  For those reluctant to disclose their situations, and

for families and friends who wish to understand and offer help to those suffering, books can offer a wealth of information and support in

a private environment.  Bibliotherapy is especially appropriate in the modern world because it provides a safe way to confront dilemmas.

Through the selected use of literature, people have an opportunity to identify and solve problems in a controlled manner. Bibliotherapy

contributes a crucial connection to those in need by showing they are not alone in facing their particular problem. This identification

develops self-concept, an increased knowledge of personal issues and eventually, more appropriate and healthier coping skills.

“Bibliotherapy can be personally tailored to your particular problem or circumstance…allows you to seek treatment at your own

pace…and can be practiced in private.”*(27)  On the whole, the benefits of bibliotherapy are many and the drawbacks very few.

    Throughout time, books have been used as powerful tools to guide thinking, strengthen character, shape behavior, inform, and now,

to solve problems.  Overall, “The fundamental belief of all bibliotherapists is that through structured or guided approach using selected

books focused on specific needs, reading can influence thinking and behavior.”*(10)  Ultimately, the task of evaluating bibliotherapy’s

therapeutic power falls on individuals in deciding whether such influence fits their personal definition of healing.
 
 

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Bibliotherapy:
Reading for Problem Solving

OBJECTIVES: At the end of this 3 hour course, you will understand the  1. Meaning of bibliotherapy, 2. The effectiveness of bibliotherapy, and 3. Bibliotherapy methods.

LW-H901. Explore this course for free. Or study this web-site for an approved (RN-CEP 11430, MFT- PCE 39) 3-hours Continuing Education Certificate for counselors, social workers, nurses and other human service professionals (0.3 CEUs) and take the 12-question multiple-choice AutoTest at the bottom of this page.   If you scored 75% or above, your CE certificate will be printed out right then on your printer 24/7. You may retake the test within a week once for free. If you paid by mistake or paid double, we refund the payment within 3 days. If you have difficulty printing your certificate, click here. The instructor is R. Klimes, PhD, MPH.

ERIC_NO: ED200896, Bibliotherapy: An Historical Overview., Salup, Bernice J.; Salup, Alane, 1978
ABSTRACT: The concept of bibliotherapy is not a new one. Aristotle believed that literature had healing effects and the ancient Romans also recognized that there was some relationship between medicine and reading. Most of the better mental hospitals in Europe had established libraries by the eighteenth century--in the United States by the middle of the nineteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, many physicians had begun to recommend books for the emotional difficulties of the mentally ill. Important people such as Drs. William and Karl Menninger furthered the use of bibliotherapy by encouraging the growth of the library at Menninger Clinic. In the field of education, teachers began to utilize bibliotherapy in the 1940s. Today, school media specialists, counselors, librarians, or teachers may incorporate bibliotherapy into their programs. During the 1950s, group reading was added to the treatment of alcoholism. Work in bibliotherapy progressed through the 1960s in such areas as drug addiction, fear, attitudinal changes, moral maturity, death and all exceptionalities. It also advanced in both educational and psychological areas. In the 1970s one of the first classes on the theory of bibliotherapy was taught. If bibliotherapists of the future will practice the profession of librarianship, make careful and detailed studies of their readers, and make use of their imagination and sense of humor, bibliotherapy will continue to prosper.

1. WHAT IS BIBLIOTHERAPY? Simply stated, bibliotherapy can be defined as the use of books to help people solve problems. Another, more precise definition is that bibliotherapy is a family of technique for structuring interaction between a facilitator and a participant based on mutual sharing of literature (Pardeck, 1989).

The idea of healing through books is not a new one--it can be traced far back in history, from the days of the first libraries in Greece (Bibliotherapy, 1982). The use of books in healing, however, has been interpreted differently by classical scholars, physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, parents, teachers, librarians, and counselors. There is, in fact, confusion in determining the dividing line between reading guidance and bibliotherapy (Smith, 1989). And the vast amount of professional literature that is available on bibliotherapy (Eppele, 1989) naturally mirrors the point of view of the helping professional who wrote it and the field in which he or she is an expert.

The purpose behind BIBLIOTHERAPY is threefold:

1. To Rebuild Thought Structures
As the natural mind functions in accordance with a long-standing pattern of egocentric thoughts and desires which, in turn, produce all kinds of conflicts, the human mind, if it is to be renewed, must be able to "think God's thoughts after Him". This best achieved by memorizing and meditating upon important passages of Scripture.

2. To Refocus the Emotions
The Word of God, if it is to 'live' in our hearts, must become the full expression of our emotions. To do this effectively, we must show a counsellee how to take portions that have been memorized and, wherever possible, add personal pronouns. This personalizes the matter and enables the counsellee to express himself to God in a new way.

3. To Redirect the Will
The human will, apart from the action of the Holy Spirit and the Word f god, is bent on having its own way. Scripture, however, when memorized, personalized and meditated upon, can bring about grreat changes in this part of the human personality. Based on writings by Ridley Usherwood.

2. DOES IT WORK? Riordan and Wilson (1989), in a review of the literature of the effects of bibliotherapy, found that a majority of the studies show mixed results for the efficacy of bibliotherapy as a separate treatment for the solving of problems. They concluded that bibliotherapy generally appears to be more successful as an adjunctive therapy. Despite such mixed research results, however, interest in the use of bibliotherapy appears to have increased in the past few years. This most likely reflects the increase of societal and familial problems in the United States--rise in divorce, alienation of young people, excessive peer group pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, and so on. Educators have also begun to recognize the increasingly critical need for delivering literacy instruction to at-risk and homeless children and their families (Ouzts, 1991).

In addition, researchers Riordan and Wilson concluded that the explosion of self-help programs during the past decade has contributed to the rise in the use of bibliotherapy, in the form of popular self-help books, such as "What Color Is Your Parachute" and "The Relaxation Response." Books such as these are the prescriptive choice of most mental health professionals for their clients, rather than fiction or poetry, according to the two researchers. Is self-help (even directed self-help) really bibliotherapy? This popular practice underscores the confusion about defining the actual technique of bibliotherapy mentioned at the beginning of this digest.

3. WHEN SHOULD BIBLIOTHERAPY BE USED? Bibliotherapeutic intervention may be undertaken for many reasons: (1) to develop an individual's self-concept; (2) to increase an individual's understanding of human behavior or motivations; (3) to foster an individual's honest self-appraisal; (4) to provide a way for a person to find interests outside of self; (5) to relieve emotional or mental pressure; (6) to show an individual that he or she is not the first or only person to encounter such a problem; (7) to show an individual that there is more than one solution to a problem; (8) to help a person discuss a problem more freely; and (9) to help an individual plan a constructive course of action to solve a problem.

Before undertaking bibliotherapy, however, a practitioner must remember that it is more than just the casual recommendation of a certain book to an individual--it is a deliberate course of action that requires careful planning (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

4. WHO SHOULD CONDUCT BIBLIOTHERAPY? Whether you are a classroom teacher, a librarian, or a mental health professional, be advised that bibliotherapy must be handled with great delicacy, and not every practitioner possesses the personal qualifications to be a facilitator in the process. Those who are interested, however, should possess personal stability; a genuine interest in working with others; and the ability to empathize with others without moralizing, threatening, or commanding (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

In addition, Smith (1989) recommends working with another practitioner or authority in a different field. For example, if you are a language arts teacher, you might collaborate with the school librarian, a guidance counselor, or the school psychologist. This cooperation helps in balancing the process so that no one person is "in charge." Smith also feels that facilitators need to have a light-enough tone in discussing problems so that no one becomes upset, but a thoughtful-enough manner to allow for "comfortable discussion." She also feels that fictional works are best for discussion purposes because participants can talk about the characters in a book rather than about themselves (Smith, 1989). All parties must agree to the bibliotherapy, however. A recent study on generating reading interest in adolescents with handicaps (Klemens, 1993) found that the majority were not even interested in reading novels with handicapped characters. Most of the young people in the survey "seemed to view the term 'handicapped' in a very narrow sense and reject the word and anything to which it may be connected."

5. HOW SHOULD IT BE USED? Arleen Hynes's book, "Bibliotherapy Handbook," is considered a good all-around introduction to bibliotherapy. It defines the types of bibliotherapy and details what the practitioner needs to know, including basic information on how to become a bibliotherapist (Smith, 1989).

Above all, books chosen by the practitioner should have literary merit--a poorly written novel with stereotyped characters and simplistic answers to complex questions is probably worse than not reading anything at all and can even leave children or young people with a negative view of literature. Reading quality literature, however, can be beneficial to students, even outside the context of bibliotherapy (White, 1989). A classroom teacher who really loves literature and who has a large collection of books is in a good position to conduct bibliotherapy, if he or she possesses the other necessary personal qualifications.

A practitioner must also decide whether an individual or a group therapy approach would be best in the particular situation. Individual therapy requires time-consuming one-on-one sessions, but some people feel freer to express themselves in a one-on-one situation.

For a classroom teacher, of course, the classroom could be seen as a natural group, and it would be a group easily broken up into collaborative units. According to Pardeck and Pardeck (1990), groups can be a powerful vehicle for helping to heal emotional problems. The Pardecks believe that a group approach to learning enhances the total child. The group approach allows members to share common experiences, thus lessening anxieties. It can create a feeling of belonging and can also provide security for individuals who might feel uncomfortable in situations where they are singled out for special attention. Working in a group may lead an individual to develop a different perspective and a new understanding of the problems of others (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

6. GUIDELINES: Regardless of whether the practitioner chooses the individual or group approach, the basic procedures in conducting bibliotherapy are: (1) motivate the individual or individuals with introductory activities; (2) provide time for reading the material; (3) allow incubation time; (4) provide follow-up discussion time, using questions that will lead persons from literal recall of information through interpretation, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of that information; and (5) conduct evaluation and direct the individual or individuals toward closure--this involves both evaluation by the practitioner and self-evaluation by the individual (Bibliotherapy, 1982).

ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication Digest #82. Prepared by Nola Kortner Aiex.
Digest#82 is EDO-CS-93-05 and was published in June 1993 by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication, 2805 E 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47408-2698, Telephone (812) 855-5847 or (800) 759-4723. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. 

1.   Identify student needs. This is done through observation, parent conferences, student writing assignments, and the review of school records.

2.   Match the student(s) with appropriate materials.  Find books which deal with divorce, a death in the family, or whatever student needs have been identified.  Keep the following in mind:
a:   The book must be at the student's reading ability level.
b.   The text must be at an interest level appropriate to the maturity of the student.
c.   The theme of the readings should match the identified needs of the student.
d.   The characters should be believable so that the student can empathize with their
        predicaments.
e.   The plot of the story should be realistic and involve creativity in problem solving.

 3.   Decide on the setting and time for sessions, and how sessions will be introduced to the
            student.

4.   Design follow-up activities for the reading (e.g., discussion, paper writing, drawing,
            drama).

5.   Motivate the student with introductory activities.

6.   Engage in the reading, viewing, or listening phase.

7.   Take a break or allow a few minutes for the student to reflect on the material.

8.   Introduce the follow-up activities.

 9.  Assist the, student in achieving closure through discussion and a listing of
        possible-solutions, or some other activity. Source


REFERENCES: Explore 3 or 4 of these sites.

Potery Therapy, Center for Change

Bibliotherapy. Fact Sheet (1982). Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. ED 234 338

Eppele, Ruth (1989). Reading Material Selection: K-12. Focused Access to Selected Topics (FAST) Bibliography No. 30. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. ED 311 394

Klemens, Lynne (1993). Are Handicapped Adolescents Interested in Reading Fiction with Handicapped Characters? M.A. Thesis, Kean College. CS 011 232

Ouzts, Dan T. (1991). "The Emergence of Bibliotherapy as a Discipline." Reading Horizons, 31(3), 199-206. EJ 421 220

Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1990). "Using Developmental Literature with Collaborative Groups." Reading Improvement, 27(4), 226-37. EJ 421 176

Pardeck, John T. and Jean A. Pardeck (1989). "Bibliotherapy: A Tool for Helping Preschool Children Deal with Developmental Change Related to Family Relationships." Early Child Development and Care, 47, 107-29. EJ 401 179

Riordan, Richard J. and Linda S. Wilson (1989). Bibliotherapy: Does It Work?" Journal of Counseling and Development, 67(9). EJ 396 292

Smith, Alice G. (1989). "Will the Real Bibliotherapist Please Stand Up?" Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 2(3), 241-49. EJ 395 489

White, Richard (1989). Bibliotherapy and the Reluctant Student. ED 309 390

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Bibliotherapy

Basically, bibliotherapy is a form of psychological dieting prescribed through reading a book in the same way that medicine provides a prescription. These readings are intended to foster the development of maturity and sustained mental health. Generally, the manuals used for therapy consist of a series of steps which are, in themselves, strategies leading to the self-management of use. Thus, treatment programs can be divided into three stages which primarily consist of: the preparation stage, the achievement of planned objectives stage and the stage of maintenance through applying a series of principles governing human behaviour in general. Bibliotherapy can also be defined as a cognitive behavioural program that attempts to pinpoint the current consumption problem, reduce consumption and empower the individual, and effectively confront situations that lead to excessive consumption.

 

To summarize, bibliotherapy programs primarily target values and attitudes as opposed to behaviour change (unless used as an adjunct to more intensive treatment programming). Overall, there is a host of methodological problems associated with existing evaluations of bibliotherapy programs that make it extremely difficult to comment on their likely effectiveness.

In the field of corrections, there is not a great deal of research on bibliotherapy. The results from a 1991 evaluation on bibliotherapy delivered to federal parolees in Canada suggests that this program did not have a significant impact on changing attitudes or behaviour. The evaluation report commented that the program was better suited to offenders at institution sites or C.C.C.'s.

Regardless of the ambiguity associated with the likely impact of bibliotherapy programs, there may still be value in introducing this type of intervention within CSC. A number of development issues would have to be addressed before introducing a bibliotherapy program into a correctional setting. Once a proper bibliotherapy program is identified, there are a number of possible advantages to offering this intervention to offenders: 1) they are relatively inexpensive to implement; 2) they can cover a wide range of topics over a relatively short time frame; 3) they involve substantially less delivery time on the part of treatment providers; 4) they can target large groups of offenders for enrolment; 5) they can be tailored for special needs groups (e.g. offenders with literacy problems); and, 6) they offer an alternative to the programs focused on the group process.

References for Bibliotherapy:

Brochu, S., Emond, S. (1991), Report on the Admissibility of a Secondary Intervention Program in Drug Addiction for CSC Parolees, Montreal: University of Montreal.

Correctional Service of Canada. (1989), Task Force on the Reduction of Substance Abuse: Volume Three, Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada.

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On Bibliotherapy

by Joseph Gold

HOW CAN READING help people overcome the pain of various losses and disappointments to the point where they can resume constructing their life-narratives? In Read For Your Life I suggested several novels that could help in the healing process of divorce and loss. Jane’s House by Robert K. Smith, Ordinary People and Second Heaven by Judith Guest, various stories by Katherine Anne Porter and Doris Lessing, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong and Heartburn by Nora Ephron, to name but a few. I based this list on clinical work and cases where patients had found such reading helpful. Today, however, I would be much more eclectic and inclusive, for I have learned that relevance to their own situations is found in all kinds of stories by patients pull-out quotationseeking ways to understand what has happened to them. Nor would I confine my reading suggestions to fictions. When a life-narrative is broken patients may find it very difficult to enter a narrative. This is often explained as a problem with concentration. In fact it is entirely possible that people do best with fiction when their own life narrative is proceeding well. It is as though they are grounded in a secure place from which they can venture into other “not I” narratives, safe in the knowledge that at any moment they can return to knowing who they are and what they are doing. When this path is lost it may be necessary to reorganize and redirect the life journey by bringing into mind new information not necessary before the loss. For instance I have found that reading about grief processes as described by Therese Rando is very helpful to patients feeling lost and confused by the emotions and circumstances of grief.

(excerpted from The Stories Species: Our Life-Literature Connection by Joseph Gold. Markham: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2002. p. 273-4)

Bibliotherapy is really reading to assist in the process of coping with life. This may be reading to gain a better understanding of problems encountered in relationships, or a way of dealing with the pain of loss, disappointment or confusion. It has been traditional to regard bibliotherapy as part of a therapeutic treatment process requiring the reader to "identify" with a character in a fictional text. Novels and short stories have been the favourite models, but more recently poems and self-help books have been added to the list.

My recent work has led me to believe that identification with a character, situation or problem is insufficient to produce the second order change that is required for effective therapy. I think a two part process of decoding text is necessary involving both identification and recognition. Recognition implies a level of awareness that the reader, by joining a character or situation, has also been able by some shift of perspective to look "back" at himself so to speak and "see" more of the self and its behaviour requiring modification than was possible before the reading. The Story Species provides the theoretical framework for the power of reading and shows the essential role of Literature in the formation of identity, community and culture.


blue rule
Do you have a story about how the power of reading has helped you through difficult times? Tell it on our messageboard or respond directly to the author here.

 

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http://www.bellaonline.com/subjects/937.asp

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Simply stated, bibliotherapy can be defined as the use of books to help people solve problems. Bibliotherapeutic intervention may be undertaken for many reasons: (1) to develop an individual's self-concept; (2) to increase an individual's understanding of human behavior or motivations; (3) to foster an individual's honest self-appraisal; (4) to provide a way for a person to find interests outside of self; (5) to relieve emotional or mental pressure; (6) to show an individual that he or she is not the first or only person to encounter such a problem; (7) to show an individual that there is more than one solution to a problem; (8) to help a person discuss a problem more freely; and (9) to help an individual plan a constructive course of action to solve a problem.

 

Webliotherapy

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