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Get your fiction prescription

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Overcome a reading rut or recover from a relationship crisis with the help of School of Life’s book therapist Ella Berthoud

What exactly is a bibliotherapst?

Someone who recommends fiction, and occasionally non-fiction, in order to deal with life’s ailments.

How did you dream up the idea?

I have always believed in the power of books to help, transform and heal. I was an avid reader as a child and studied English Literature at Cambridge. It was there I came up with the idea of healing through fiction. My friend Susan Elderkin started bibliotherapy with me; we used to practice on each other through our twenties.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to get your fiction prescription

What kind of situations have your ‘patients’ brought you?

Some are going through divorce or bereavement, so might want books that either distract them or contain characters who have gone through the same thing. But we are not just dealing with negative issues. I’ve had people wanting to get out of a reading rut, or having children for the first time and asking ‘what is the best book to be reading at this point in my life?’

How does a bibliotherapy session work

We send clients a questionnaire by email asking about their relationship with books, what they've loved and disliked reading, and questions about their personal life. Then when we meet, either in person at the School of Life or on the phone, we have a good understanding of what they are hoping to achieve. I then prescribe eight books that I think will help them.

What does a client get from the session, apart from a great reading list?

They have the chance to talk about themselves and their passion for reading, and about what is happening in their lives in a relaxed and safe setting. It is really positive.

What are the skills you need to be a great bilbiotherapist?

Definitely a great listener, and the ability to be alert to what’s going on between the lines. I’ve had people come to talk about a new summer reading list and then we end up talking about the stress they are under from moving house. There is always something lurking and part of the challenge is pinpointing what is worrying them. You also need to be an avid reader with a retentive memory, to have kept notes on lots of the books you have read. Finally you'll need a good perspective on world literature, because clients have different backgrounds and cultures.

Is there one book you self prescribed to help you through a difficult time?

Yes, my mother recently died and I found What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt extremely helpful, it deals with bereavement in a very full on way. When I was pregnant I read Helen Dewitt’s The Last Samurai, which was helpful in terms of preparing for parenthood.

A session costs £70 in person and £30 on the telephone, theschooloflife.com

Scroll down to choose one of four fiction prescriptions - for the new parent, for the newly single, for those longing to be published and for those struggling with work life balance. Or download all four!

Picture credit: Rex Features

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