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What is bibliotherapy?

The popularity of self-help books indicates that individuals use reading as a form of self-development and healing, and while many are able to seek professional help through psychiatric agencies, a great many more either cannot access psychiatric services for financial reasons or do not wish to, and that is where self-help texts come into their own. The term “bibliotherapy” means to experience healing through reading, and can be used alone or as an adjunct to therapy with a counselor. The reader identifies with the characters in a book and realizes that they are not alone with the problems they experience in their lives. When the reader becomes emotionally involved in the story they find it easier to express their own emotions, learn to problem solve and gain alternative perspectives. 

Why bibliotherapy for teenagers?

I studied teenage suicide for my PhD thesis after professionals identified that many suicides occurred in adolescents who they would not have considered at risk, and I identified twelve risk factors, which when combined increased the likelihood that a teenager could attempt suicide. I wanted to do something, anything, to help adolescents avoid this violent and irreversible act. I interviewed numerous adolescents in juvenile detention and behavioral health facilities as part of my research and recognized that so many disadvantaged and at risk teenagers were poor readers. They felt intimidated by this and shied away from studying or learning, which compounded their problems. With this in mind I began to write therapeutic novels to address those twelve risk factors, simply, so that even the poorest reader could manage and benefit from them. The 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that 69% of eighth graders were below proficiency levels, so the novels have a larger font than usual, shorter sentences, and use simple language.

The twelve risk factors for teen suicide

It is commonly accepted that familial suicide is a risk for other family members, each having assimilated the message that “I life gets too tough around here, I can always opt out,” and my research shows that it is still the greatest risk factor. However, when I examined my data further, I found a disturbing number of other risk factors that research at that time had not identified. Teenagers from one-parent families were at greater risk and those with a negative relationship with step-parents were also at greater risk. Those who felt that they didn’t belong anywhere, weren’t good enough, wished that they’d never been born, felt powerless and couldn’t think for themselves also were at risk, yet for many teenagers these risk factors were tempered by “buffers,” people, resources, that helped teenagers cope with these life stressors. Those without support, when these risk factors were combined, were more likely to attempt suicide, seeing no other way out. I wanted to provide troubled teenagers with a “buffer” so that when they felt despair they could gain comfort and realize that suicide was not the answer, they weren’t alone and that there was hope.

What is unique about the “I Only Said” series of therapeutic novels?

The series of novels, current ten, address the following issues: anger management, understanding adult co-dependence, bullying, peer pressure, having casual sex to fit in with the in-crowd, grief and depression, drinking alcohol, teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse, drug addiction, cutting and self-harming, eating disorders, behavior modification and parenting skills, and coping with divorce and blended families. What is unique about these books is that they are written in the first person and in the present tense so that the reader identifies with the main character=s thoughts and feelings and progresses through the therapeutic process vicariously as the main character. Each book has therapeutic fables, which teachers, school counselors, social workers, therapists and nurses can use to generate discussions about sensitive issues. Each book also provides three consistent loving role models, Miss Tina (therapist), Miss Cassie (life skills teacher) and Ken (counselor) who offer a literary safe haven to the reader so that teenagers can gain comfort from them when they feel alone and distressed. 

Although teenagers were my target audience these books are not only useful for them. They provide student teachers, counselors, therapists and nurses not only effective therapeutic interventions to use in their practice, but also a means to self-actualize in their chosen professions.

My vision

So often teenagers go home each night to the same situation that led them to experience despair, and nothing in the family changes. If teenagers can take these books home, parents could learn from them too, thus breaking the cycle of inter-generational pathology. My vision is to help as many young people, everywhere, avoid suicide, so that they realize their true potential, learn coping skills, and keep themselves safe in the future. 

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