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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Bibliotherapy and Art Therapy

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers, and Adults

Bibliotherapy and art therapy techniques provide a non-threatening way to discuss difficult feelings about issues. The type of children’s book and type of art therapy directive that would be utilized is dependent on the therapeutic environment and the mental health issues of the child (Malchiodi & Ginns-Gruenberg, 2008). It is important to remember that the art product, the aesthetics of what is created is not the focus; the creative process of visually depicting one’s feelings is the goal. Pehrsson (2011) emphasized that it is most beneficial to process the material in the story through play, drama, or art to create therapeutic movement and healing (p. 214).

Leggett (2009) suggests having simple art materials available such as paper of various sizes and colors, pencils (regular and colored), crayons, markers, and pastels (p. 195). When working with stories, Malchiodi and Ginns-Gruenberg (2008) offered questions that can be asked to the child (p.182):

  • Are you like any of the story’s characters?

  • Who would you like to be in the story?

  • What is your favorite part of the story?

  • How would you change the characters, what happened, or how the story ended?

  • Did anything in the story ever happen to you?

Any of these questions can become an art therapy directive using different art mediums. Leggett further suggested beginning with Janan Cain’s (2000) The Way I feel, a book which illustrates children experiencing a variety of emotions including frustration, shyness, jealousy, and pride. This book according to Leggett (2009) can help a child learn about the common language and experiences that each emotion creates, which can lead to a dialogue about feelings.

According to Pardeck and Markward (1995), a child must be able to see similarities between themselves and a character in the book. Through this connection, a child begins to see how the character solves a confronting problem, thus helping the child see possible solutions for their own problems (p. 77).

Leggett (2009) suggested when using Cain’s (2000) The Way I Feel, the child is asked to identify three feelings and of those feelings, what feeling they would most like to change. For the art directive, the child is encouraged to draw about a situation they want to change or is most troubling them. This process can help to discover any incongruence in the child’s ability to understand their feelings and how situations impact them. It is important to allow time for the child to draw, add details, and then describe what they drew (p. 196). Pardeck (1990) suggested mood collages are also an effective way to help children process feelings and emotions expressed in a story (p. 1047).

Malchiodi and Ginns-Gruenberg (2008) recommended when helping a child cope with the death of a loved one is using the picture book Someone Special Died (Prestine, 1993). This story validates the memory of the person who is deceased and encourages the child to create a scrapbook to commemorate their life (p. 181). Through the creative process of creating the scrapbook, the child can process their feelings. Malchiodi and Ginns-Gruenberg (2008) offered another example of an art therapy directive to create puppets to process feelings related to fears of a mother leaving based on reading the book, When Fuzzy was afraid of Losing his Mother (2005). Puppets can also be used to help express feelings about the story read (Pardeck, 1990). In addition to drawing or puppet making, Pardeck (1990) suggested the construction of collages or mobiles out of pictures of photographs to process main elements of the story.

Other examples that Malchiodi and Ginns-Gruenburg (2008) provided include When Sophie Gets Angry---really, really angry (Bang, 1999) and Sometimes I’m Bombaloo (Vail, 2002) are picture books about anger and what happens when that anger is negatively expressed and then subsequent coping skills strategies to deal with the anger. In addition, Shore (2013) discusses art therapy directives related to anger such as create a picture of what makes you angry and draw what your anger looks like. These directives can reveal important information about a child’s presenting problem particularly if anger is a main issue (p. 97). Interpretations and discussions of the artwork can be made by looking at the meaning and metaphor of every line, point, color, and image. Interpretations may be made that are not yet apparent to the child; therefore, open-ended questions are asked to aid the child in the process of becoming self-aware. These interpretations are part of the healing process (Shore, 2013). Leggett (2009) further encouraged to ask relationship questions, not-knowing questions or make statements to find out more about the details of the child’s drawing (p. 197). These guiding or exploratory questions can assist the child in coming to their conclusions about what they drew and how it relates to their own personal experiences. Children who feel helpless and isolated find comfort in knowing that they are not alone, and these creative interventions can assist with these issues.

While bibliotherapy and art therapy techniques have many benefits for young children, there are limitations. Limitations mentioned in the literature include: bibliotherapy and art therapy are most effective when children enjoy reading and creating art otherwise there are issues about resistance to engaging in creative directives; finding appropriate books can be time consuming (Leggett, 2009; Pardeck, 1990). These limitations should be kept in mind when considering how this approach would most benefit a particular child or children. In addition, one needs to consider the time they are willing to give to find books that best fit the child’s presenting issues. In summary, books that are the most effective in bibliotherapy with young children contain characters children can identify with; visual styles that are engaging; accessible to all ages. Non-threatening techniques when working with young children are essential to establishing a positive relationship which will lead to psychological healing and growth for the child.


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


Bang, M. (1999). When Sophie gets angry-really, really, angry…. Scholastic.

Cain, J. (2000). The way I feel. Parenting Press, Inc.

Leggett, E. (2009). A creative application of solution-focused counseling: an integration with

children’s literature and visual arts. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 4, 191-200.

Maier, I. (2005). When fuzzy was afraid of losing his mother. American Psychological


Malchiodi, C. & Ginns-Guenberg, D. (2008). Trauma, loss, and bibliotherapy: the healing power

of stories. In Malchiodi, C. (Ed.). Creative interventions with traumatized children.

Guilford Press.

Pardeck, J. & Markward, M. (1995). Bibliotherapy: using books to help children deal with

problems. Early Child Development and Care, 106, 75-90. https://doi/org/10.1080/0300443951060108

Pehrsson, D. (2011). Utilizing bibliotherapy within play therapy for children with anxieties and

fears. In Drewes, A, Bratton, S, and Schaefer, C. (Eds.). Integrative Play Therapy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Prestine, J. (1993). Someone special died. Fearon Teacher Aids.

Shore, A. (2013). The practitioner’s guide to child art therapy. Routledge.

Vail, R. (2002). Sometimes I’m bombaloo. Scholastic.

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