Incorporating Bibliotherapy into Higher Education Settings: A literature review, research study, collaboration, and literary essay

Plan Author

  • Ivy Woodrow, 2015

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Psychotherapies
  • Course: Telling and Retelling: Contemporary Responses to Familiar Fictions
  • Tutorial: Using Books in Family Systems and Group Therapy
  • Tutorial: Statistics for Research Study

Project Description

Psychologically-based essay that reviews and evaluates bibliotherapy implementations on college campuses.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Marianella Medrano, professional counselor


This Plan is a four-pronged study of bibliotherapy. It starts with a review of bibliotherapy implementations on college campuses, including many beneficial practices that are often not recognized as bibliotherapy but have the potential to further support students. The second paper is a study on Northeastern US college counselor’s familiarity and use of bibliotherapy, based on a survey of 60 counselors and literature review, providing for useful comparisons of users and nonusers. The third paper is on Marlboro College’s recent collaboration to incorporate bibliotherapy into student services, a project spearheaded by Ivy that provided useful therapeutic books and consumer health information in order to support students’ health and well-being. The final paper is an analysis of memoir writing as bibliotherapy in Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family.


Bibliotherapy, which is essentially using literature therapeutically, has been used for centuries to promote healing. Aristotle was among the first known to point out the cathartic quality of stories, but the term bibliotherapy was first coined in the United States 100 years ago by Samuel Crothers, a group therapist. Bibliotherapy can be used in a variety of settings and can help treat a range of developmental and clinical issues. The goals of bibliotherapy in developmental settings are generally to use literature as an aid to support healthy individuals cope with life tasks; however, the goals of clinical bibliotherapy center on assisting clients with mental health issues.

When assessing students’ health needs, I found it particularly conducive to be an active community member who had already liaised with the professional health staff on campus as a member of Student Health and Peer Education Resources (SHAPERs) and was closely connected to fellow students through my leadership roles as a peer advisor, writing tutor and library assistant. Through being a SHAPER, I assisted with outreach that allowed me to view some Marlboro College students’ attitudes towards health-promoting events. The majority of the students that attended events regularly, particularly the social science and humanities students, were interested in learning more about psychosocial issues and healthy lifestyles; however, many other students did not even show up unless the program contained fun or unique elements, or some type of reward.

It is apparent from the beginning section that both family and place are essential to Ondaatje, though he approaches them from a general and distant perspective. He excludes the name Ceylon in the opening pages, but includes a description of his drought nightmare in Ceylon where “thorn trees in the garden send their hard roots underground towards the house climbing through windows so they can drink sweat off his body, steal the last of the saliva off his tongue,” as well as elusive, poetic sentences describing his writing as he waits for “dawn through a garden” to approach. Though it is not stated within this section, we later find out that his father managed the Ceylon Cactus and Succulent Society, so Ondaatje is alluding to his father when referencing the garden. Through not referencing his father directly at the very start of the memoir, we see how Ondaatje writes from a place of distance about his father. Ondaatje then informs the reader of the details within the next account; he reveals his current place of residence, Canada, and his plans for returning to his birthplace, Ceylon—present day Sri Lanka. Ceylon is not only significant to Ondaatje because it marks the loss of his family and the death of his father; it is significant because it marks another loss, his loss of cultural origins.


When I think back on my plan I remember the mixture of anxiety and excitement. My independent project was the most interesting part because I wrote about how I was able to apply what I learned about bibliotherapy so that I could help fellow Marlboro students.

I plan to continue to pursue my plan topic of bibliotherapy in graduate school and poetry therapy trainings.