Many techniques used in counseling adults are also applicable to counseling children. There are, however, some techniques that are particularly well suited to working with children, including Bibliotherapy.
This is an effective technique with children for a number of reasons, most obviously … because children love stories!
Stories normalize experiences.
Stories offer hope.
Bibliotherapy offers distance from the problem, such that the child can relate to the character, themes or plot of the story, without risking self-exposure.
The expectation with this therapy is that the child will be able to identify with the plot, themes, or characters. Working with the child through the story or character will open the door to explore the child’s inner thoughts and feelings.
The discussion may be indirect, where the child discusses issues and answers to my questions in terms of the story.
For example, after reading a story with a main character named Julie, who is crying because she had trouble making friends at school, I might ask ask, “why do you think Julie was crying?” The child might respond with, “She was crying because her dad was angry, he thinks she should do better and not be so shy.”
From this type of interaction, the child is in a safe place to project her issues onto the character, Julie.
Although the crying could be related to sadness, frustration, bullying or other issues, the child identified anger; a natural coversation would give further insight into this projection (Heath, Sheen, Leavy, Young, & Money, 2005).
The discussion may also be direct, which works well with older children. The direct intervention involves using the story and characters to identify and discuss the child’s issues.
I might ask, “In the chapter you read, Joe gets in a fight. Is that the same kind of situation you had last week? How is it different?” The child then relates his own experience, rather than projecting onto the character of the story (Heath, Sheen, Leavy, Young, & Money, 2005).
Story selection is based on child’s interest and appropriateness to their presenting problem.
I think it is important to consider the age range and cognitive ability in selecting a story for the child to read on their own, or for us to read together in session.
It is essential that book selection is done with sensitivity to the cultural background and family system that makes up the child’s environment (Pardeck, 1994).
Clients can relate to the material directly or indirectly to open up to difficult topics and explore complicated emotions.
Stories are particularly useful with children, as stories can help to normalize certain experiences and ensure the child that they are not alone in their issues.
Heath, M., Sheen, D., Leavy, D., Young, E & Money, K., (2005) Bibliotherapy, a resource to facilitate emotional healing and growth. School Psychology International 26(5). DOI: 10.1177/0143034305060792
McJimsey, D. (2010) Using Bibliotherapy with children. Unpublished manuscript. University of Phoenix.
Pardeck, J. (1994). Using literature to help adolescents cope with problems. Adolescence 29(114).