DAILY / MAY 21, 2017  
Psychiatric News Update

What Can Children’s Books Teach You About Your Patients?

Child reading a book
All literature is born from the human need to tell stories that help us understand ourselves and others. Children’s books—which allow young readers to experience love and loss, betrayal, and resiliency through the lives of characters—can lead to cognitive and emotional growth in young people.

During a session today at APA’s Annual Meeting, Magdalena Romanowicz, M.D., a child psychiatrist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic, noted that “each and every one of us has books that are important to us, yet as mental health providers we rarely ask patients about it.” By asking young patients about books they are reading and characters with whom they identify, psychiatrists may find new ways to strengthen the therapeutic alliance and engage in therapy in new ways, Romanowicz said.

Romanowicz was joined by Carl Feinstein, M.D., a child psychiatrist and a professor emeritus in the Department of Child Psychiatry at Stanford, and other child psychiatrists, who discussed the many ways books can shape a reader’s understanding of the world and his or her place in it. Books guide readers to a deeper sense of consciousness; raise questions about cultural heritage, sexuality, and gender; and create a safe space for probing fears, loss, and even trauma and violence, Romanowicz and Feinstein explained.

Panelists included Mali Mann, M.D., a child and adult psychiatrist and psychoanalyst as well as training and supervising psychoanalyst in California; Aparna Atluru, M.D., a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford; and child psychiatrist and children’s author Melissa Vallas, M.D. Each panelist described books that they found important in their personal lives and in the lives of their patients. The cultural and religious tales that are specific to different populations were also discussed, as was the role of aggression in fairy tales, the ways children’s literature has evolved over time, and the creative process of writing for children.

“More books are needed that address children’s existential issues, their search for meaning and frequent complaints of emptiness, disconnect with reality, and difficulties with forming relationships,” Feinstein, who chaired the session, told Psychiatric News.

(Image: iStock/FatCamera)



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