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Bibliotherapy targets the “bookish but bewildered”

A new service has sprung up across the pond to offer wayward book lovers targeted reading lists and, by extension, maybe even more fulfilling lives.

Called bibliotherapy, the one-on-one sessions are “designed to enhance your reading life by exploring your habits and preferences and then coming up with a ‘prescription’ for your bookshelf,” The Observer reports. The process is also designed to help people through divorce, bereavement, and other life transitions.

Bibliotherapy emerged from discussions between U.K. artist Ella Berthoud and novelist Susan Elderkin as a way to connect people with books they would most benefit from and enjoy in a world where the volume of reading material is daunting. Sessions are hosted out of London, England–based writer Alain de Botton’s School of Life, which offers programs to enrich adults’ social and intellectual lives.

At a cost of £20 for a “speed session” and £70 for a 40-minute appointment, bibliotherapy isn’t talk therapy in the traditional sense, but it borrows some elements from the practice. After filling in a questionnaire about reading habits, participants can expect to discuss their favourite books, passions, hopes, dreams, and perceptions of what is missing from their lives. Each session ends with the bibliotherapist prescribing a reading list, usually heavy on literary fiction.

Six writers from the The Observer each had a different take on bibilotherapy after trying it out. In summarizing his experience, Robert McCrum identifies one reason bibliotherapists haven’t yet become mainstream:

“It probably makes a nice gift, but I’m not sure that a sympathetic local bookshop, or a well–read friend, wouldn’t far more successfully address most of [bibliotherapy's] functions for free, no questions asked.”

  • August

    Interesting. There is actually a more legitimate therapeutic practice called bibliotherapy, but it’s a technique used as part of a psychologist or psychiatrist’s toolbox. (There’s an excellent book by Joseph Gold called The Story Species that, while not about the practice per se, is an important text in understanding what it’s all about.)

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