Teen and Children’s Therapy Books: 5 Things to Know

By Leo DeBroeck, LMHC, CMHS, MHP

It seems throughout social media there are 1,001 different advertised self-help books filled with tips and tricks which claim that self-care cures mental illness. It does not.

Lack of self-care is not the cause of a true clinical disorder and, therefore not the cure. You would have just as much luck curing the flu by putting your arm in a cast.

Misinformation is everywhere, and it can cause confusion and emotional damage.

In some cases, mental health treatment can include the use of therapy books. Therapy books for people of all ages can be hard to find, but especially so for teens and children.

Even when there is a good therapy book, if it is used the wrong way, it could cause more confusion and damage; similar to how a surgeon’s scalpel could be misused.

What are some of the correct ways to use therapy books for teens and children? Here are few notable pieces to keep in mind:

GoodTherapy | Books

1) Pick a Relatable Book

Pick a book that is relatable to the child or teen’s unique situation or emotional state. Finding a story that fits the situation they may be facing is critical.

Teens and children are going to have a harder time than adults with how the book relates to them. To make those important connections, you need to spend time going through the book with the teen or child and talking about how they do, or don’t, relate to the characters, situation, or beliefs.

There will never be a perfect fit, but use a book that is close enough that you can discuss some of the connections.

2) Books Can be Misunderstood

An effect of many mental health disorders are “cognitive distortions” where things can be viewed in a very negative way. For example, a story about a person overcoming social anxiety may become twisted to a story of how all other people are better than the reader.

Stories often have a tidy “happy ending,” while real life is far more complex. This can be confusing to children and enraging to teens who are setting expectations to be fictional rather than realistic.

Use therapy books to be able to process how expectations and reality can be different. Going through their interpretation of the book is more important than the actual storyline.

3) Use Books to Open Up Conversation, Not Close It

It can be easier to compartmentalize information and experiences as an adult. Using a book with a child to help process something can be interpreted as, “This is our time to talk about what happened and when we’re done with the book, we’re done talking about it forever.”

This is not a good thing. Kids have to process things multiple times as they mature and grow older and understand more about themselves, the world, and others.

Books should be used to help open up conversations and questions so they can process and desensitize, without becoming overwhelmed.

GoodTherapy | Kids Therapy Books

4) Don’t Leave Therapy Books Laying Around

Therapy books are like surgical tools; they could do a lot of harm if misused.

The temptation is often to leave them around so that, “They can read it when they want to.” This may happen sometimes but is the exception to the rule.

Therapy books are made to be read together with therapists, caregivers, or trusted adults. Having time set aside to talk about what has been read is critical to proper use.

Reading side-by-side with children and talking about each chapter together with teens is the most important part to using the therapy book.

5) Don’t Surprise Them with the Topics

Making sure that the teen or child feels in control is very important. Trapping or tricking them into talking about the book’s topic is going to do more harm than good.

A lot of preparation goes into using a therapy book and it should be a mutual agreement to discuss the book as you read it together.

Pressuring children and teens to talk about something they aren’t ready to open up about, like cooking a clam, isn’t going to be effective. Teaching them how to feel safe is needed before therapy books could be used.

Leo DeBroeck is the author of a number of therapy books available on Amazon. All of his children and teen therapy books have detailed instructions for therapists, caregivers, or trusted adults to be able to use properly. Suggested questions and discussion points are also included with different maturity levels. For more information from Mr. DeBroeck about how to use therapy books, see his free NBCC-approved continuing education course on the topic here: debroeck.psychmaven.com. GoodTherapy Members can also access the 2-hour continuing education homestudy course he presented for GoodTherapy, here: Using Stories and Children’s Therapy Books: An Overview for Clinicians.


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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kate

    January 31st, 2023 at 12:26 PM

    Thank you. I will check out your books. I am a hypnotherapist and I work with children and adults.

  • Cliff

    January 31st, 2023 at 2:03 PM

    By Leo DeBroeck, LMHC, CMHS, MHP

    It seems throughout social media there are 1,001 different advertised self-help books filled with tips and tricks which claim that self-care cures mental illness. It does not.

    Confusing article here. You state that “Lack of self-care is not the cause of a true clinical disorder and, therefore not the cure”. Exactly what do you mean by “lack of self-care”. If you don’t think that being abused, not exercising, having horribly awful relationships, having no money, being haunted by resentment, unexamined failures, and millions of other life experiences, don’t contribute or cause mental illness, how can you conclude this?”. If you look at the ACES study, you will see the correlation between abuse and neglect and mental illness. Another issue I have is how this term “mental illness” is tossed around. If you have a serious thought disorder, unrelenting OCD, chronic and severe depression, etc etc. I suppose we could all agree that these qualify as mental illness. But what about reactions to grief and sudden trauma? Are these mental illness? The answer to that question has at least some connection to the methods you employee to help and could keep people from seeing that a reaction like this is normal and understandable and if not, it’s usually related to earlier experiences in a person’s life that complicate the clinical picture. I suppose the thing that made me respond to this article is the authoritative statement that implies that you know what causes mental illness (which is undefined & ambiguous anyway). If you do know, then please tell us. If you say CBT and psychopharm, then I know where you are coming from. Psychopharm has it’s place, but largely has not helped, is often dangerous and has not helped. CBT looks good on paper and works for some disorders, but is not a panacea. The latest thing causing everyone to talk is psychodelics……..they have a long way to go. But, so far it is the existential and spiritual feelings that people feel under the influence of those substances that they report to be healing. So actually changing thinking states, emotional states, and yes the care we give ourselves is the “only thing that helps” long term. I mean, why read books at all if it doesn’t. 😀

  • William

    February 1st, 2023 at 2:26 AM

    Thank you very much for sharing this important information with me. This has been very helpful to me as a Therapist. Hope you will be sending more materials that can help advance my career. Thanks!

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