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Bibliocounseling: Mental Health Literacy One Story at a Time

By Jayna Mumbauer | August 2019

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Bibliocounseling is the use of books, movies, music and other media to foster social and emotional growth and facilitate problem solving. The versatility of the intervention allows school counselors to address a multitude of topics in a variety of settings, including individual counseling, small groups and classroom lessons. Researchers examining the effectiveness of bibliocounseling report improvements for children with aggression and conduct problems, depression, ADHD and difficult life transitions such as bereavement and divorce.
School counselors can use bibliocounseling to foster students’ mental health literacy, defined as the beliefs and perceptions surrounding mental health that aid help-seeking and positive coping. In recent years, an influx of books, TV shows and films have addressed common mental health challenges faced by children and adolescents. The benefits of bibliocounseling include:
  • identification, the feeling of relating to a particular story or character
  • insight, awareness of personal problems and potential solutions
  • catharsis, the release of pent-up emotions
Just as group counseling promotes feelings of universalism through group connection, bibliocounseling offers a platform for students to realize they are not alone or different because of their mental health challenges. In the safety of a school counseling environment, students can learn about mental health, work through difficult feelings and begin to problem solve.
Although a common and accessible intervention, bibliocounseling can present some challenges for school counselors. First and foremost, the abundance of available bibliocounseling materials may result in choice overload. How does one choose between hundreds of potentially valuable books and videos? School counselors should look for storylines that not only educate about mental health challenges but also promote positive coping. Storylines must strike a delicate balance between realistically depicting mental health and illness while avoiding romanticizing serious mental health issues. For example, the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has been criticized for characterizing suicide as vengeful and vindictive and failing to educate viewers about risk factors and strategies to reduce deaths by suicide. In contrast, John Green’s popular novel “Turtles All the Way Down” depicts obsessive-compulsive disorder through a lens of hope and acceptance, without shying away from the unfortunate realities of the disorder. School counselors uncertain about how a book portrays mental health can read reviews on, where readers have the opportunity to vocalize their feelings about a particular book.
The bibliocounseling resources listed below can be used to foster students’ mental health literacy.
Title Author Grade Level Applicability
“Seeds and Trees” Brandon Walden Elementary
Explores the impact of feelings and emotions on well-being; encourages children to practice kindness to others and to themselves.
“Tear Soup” Pat Schwiebert Elementary
Presents the complexities of grief in an easy to understand way for young children.
“When Worry Takes Hold” Liz Haske Elementary
Explores child’s worries and anxiety and presents strategies such as positive self-talk and mindful breathing.
“The Science of Breakable Things” Tae Keller Middle School
Explores parental depression through the eyes of Natalie, a middle school student attempting to use the scientific method to “solve” her mom’s depression.
“Finding Perfect” Elly Swartz Middle School
A moving, empathetic portrayal of a middle school student who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide” Natasha Daniels Middle School
Written by an adolescent counselor with personal experience navigating anxiety.
“The Memory of Light” Francisco Stork High School
Depicts a young girl’s recovery and healing after a suicide attempt.
“Finding Audrey” Sophie Kinsella High School
Described as funny and heartwarming, depicts the struggle of social anxiety.
“Turtles All the Way Down” John Green High School
A teenager struggles with an anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
New from ASCA: learn more about bibliocounseling with the new School Counselor Resource Series, “Bibliocounseling: Using Literature in School Counseling Interventions and Activities,” from ASCA’s online bookstore.