Why parents should consider books with the eye of a therapist

This quote from the great human rights leader Frederick Douglass reminds me of the emancipatory power of books.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
— Frederick Douglass

As a therapist who works with traumatized children, I’ve seen how well-written, well-illustrated books can liberate a child’s life narrative in a way that traditional talk therapy simply cannot. Thoughts about the way the world works are greatly altered by overwhelming experience, and a child who has been traumatized tells him or herself a very different story about their world after trauma. Good books have a way of reframing and rewiring that story. Brain chemistry is altered when a child’s mind resonates with a healing narrative. This mode of therapy, called bibliotherapy, is one of the oldest techniques we use as helpers.

Parents, I invite you to consider books with the eye of a therapist. Whether or not your child has been traumatized in a clinical sense, ask yourself how characters and narratives connect with your child’s experience, and talk to them about it. I’ll be commenting more on this powerful form of therapy in future posts.

Aaron Heffernan~ Aaron Heffernan, MA, LCSW, Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin

Aaron is a child and family therapist at Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin specializing in trauma counseling. He has experience working with clients who are coping with depression, anxiety, divorce, and family and community violence. He is a certified practitioner of EMDR, and uses expressive modalities such as play therapy, bibliotherapy and music and art-based therapies with a wide range of clients.

Aaron is also a current partner with Project Ujima, a hospital-based program committed to helping families cope with community violence. He uses Hip Hop Music Therapy with many of his urban adolescent clients through their community outreach program.

Read more blog posts by Aaron Heffernan.

Comments

Why parents should consider books with the eye of a therapist — 3 Comments

  1. I was recently asked about bibliotherapy resources for a parent of a child who experienced an automobile accident. I’ve included a list of a few books I have on the topic, with a brief summary and targeted age group for each book. Most of the bibliotherapy books I have that deal specifically with automobile accidents address the loss of a loved one in the wake of an accident. While this doesn’t apply to everyone’s experience, they may be worth looking into for the messages of hope and resilience that they convey. Use your best judgment on this matter however, and always read the book yourself before reading it with your child. Be sure that the pictures and overall message are appropriate for your child’s experience, and do not re-traumatize him or her.

    If a parent is concerned about a book re-traumatizing their child, it’s best to go with books that deal more generally with stories of positive coping and resilience. One of my favorite “catch-all” bibliotherapy books for kids is A Terrible Thing Happened – A story for children who have witnessed violence or trauma by Margaret M. Holmes.

    – Bohlmeijer, Arno, (1996) Something Very Sorry, Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin. (A family member dies but others survive an auto accident) Grades 5-7

    – Boulos, Sis, (2003) Every Day and All the Time, New York NY: Henry Holt Book for young readers (an 11 yr old girl injured in a car accident uses psychotherapy and ballet dancing to grieve her injuries and the death of her older brother) Ages 9-12

    – Carrick, Carol (1976) The Accident New York, NY: On Books. (After a dog is hit by a truck and killed, Christopher must deal with his own feelings of depression and guilt) Grades 1-4

    – Price, Matthew and Steve Augarde. (2000). Little Red Car Has an Accident. NY: Abbeville Kids. (story of a little red car’s accident on the road) Pre-school to first grade

    Not all of these books are easy to find, as they’re not all are in print. I would start with a simple Google search on the titles you may find interesting, to get a background summary of the book, and then see if the book is at your local library, or amazon.com. I’m told that booksamillion (http://www.booksamillion.com) is another good resource for hard to find books.

    I’ve referenced the publisher for each book too, if none of the above suggestions work. Good luck, and I hope this might help!

    ~ Aaron Heffernan

  2. Thank you for the list of books! I’m the one who asked about them from Children’s Hosp of WI. My kids have since done much therapy and talked about it with us the accident. I feel they have gotten through ok. At the time, I wish there would have been something like these to start the conversation in a positive light. There ought to be a book specific on surviving a trauma with how the road to recovery will be. That will be next on my list to get to, write a book about our experience. Thank you very much again.