Bibliotherapy involves reading books or using computer programs to get information on how to overcome emotional problems. Bibliotherapy tells the person exactly what to do, and provides homework exercises so that the person can put that knowledge into practice. Most bibliotherapy uses cognitive behaviour therapy (see entry for cognitive behaviour therapy). Two common self-help books are Feeling Good (Burns, 1980) and Control Your Depression (Lewinsohn and others, 1986). Beating the Blues (Tanner and Ball, 1989) is an Australian version. The treatment is self-help, although a professional may ring the person periodically to check how they are going.
People follow a detailed structured program from the book. The person is able to put into practice the techniques that a therapist would provide if the person sought help face to face. Most bibliotherapy uses cognitive behaviour therapy.
There have been over 35 studies on the effect of bibliotherapy on depression. In general, it works better than no treatment and can be as helpful as therapy provided by a professional.
Adolescents, adults and elderly people all seem to be helped, although the number of studies in each of these categories is small. As yet, there have been no trials to demonstrate bibliotherapy is helpful for people with severe depression.
Bibliotherapy may be unhelpful if a person diagnoses themselves incorrectly and then gives themselves the wrong treatment. Bibliotherapy has not been tested in people with severe clinical depression. A high level of reading ability is needed for some of the self-help books.
Most bookshops have self-help depression books available. They can also be ordered over the internet. See the Books & Reports section for a short list of self-help books. Computer and web-based programs are also available directly to the public.
People with mild to moderate depression might like to try one of the tested books. It may be useful to consult a mental health professional to confirm suitability first.