Most obviously, very wide reading. We look for someone with a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the world of literature, and what has happened. A kind of reader who reads, in the deepest sense—to be changed and transformed, to learn and to be energized and saddened, as appropriate.
We also look for some kind of therapeutic background, sometimes a degree or practice in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. It just lends a theoretical background to recommendations.
What types of life issues can bibliotherapy remedy?
It could be anything from “I’m suffering in a relationship” to “I’m a bit bored” to “I’m lacking ambition,” “I’m too prey to nostalgia” or “I can’t get on with my children.” Whatever it is.
We have got some e-mails from irate bookstore owners who say, “We do this anyway. We love our customers and if they come in and want a book, we will recommend one to them.” But, with all due respect, I think what we’re trying to do is to go a little bit deeper than that. It will be a rare independent bookstore owner that is able to spend an hour with someone and draw up a 100-book reading list for him or her.
The following recommendations are written by bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud of the School of Life in London.
What is a typical appointment like?
You come in. Normally, there has been a little bit of e-mail correspondence between the consultant and consultee. So, the bibliotherapist will know roughly what the areas of concern might be. Through conversation, the patient’s interests are teased out and a systematic reading program or reading list is drawn up. It depends—it could be that the meeting is the moment in which the reading list is delivered, the e-mail exchange having kind of revealed the dilemma quite simply. Other times, it might be a longer process, and the session is data gathering for that list to then be drawn up. It might be that you have had an interesting time and six months later you want to be guided with another issue, or you want to take your reading further.
Do bibliotherapists prescribe books with characters going through similar predicaments? What is the strategy?