Could you benefit from bibliotherapy?

lit review

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New Yorker article about bibliotherapy….

Here’s a word to learn: bibliotherapy. And a profession: bibliotherapist. I had no idea such terms existed until I receive an email from my friend Fran Gerber. She’d sent me a link to a fascinating June 9/15 New Yorker article headlined, “Can Reading Make You Happier?” (For the record, my answer to that question is always, ‘Yes! A thousand times, yes!”)

If you’re also unfamiliar with ‘bibliotherapy,’ it refers to the  practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. Twenty years ago, it was practiced by Cambridge friends Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who helped each other survive the rigors of university by reading fiction. Then, in 2007, they started running a clinic in the subject through London’s School of Life.

New Yorker writer Ceridwen Dovey took some counselling sessions from Berthoud and here is one of her conclusions:

The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. 

I feel much the same way about reading and I’m tempted to meet with Berthoud myself.