Intuitively, you know that books are good for the soul. But what if the notion was taken one step further, where books could be used to address the ills of your life? Well, it has – and it's called bibliotherapy. The process involves a detailed inquiry about what ails you, followed by the delivery of a literary “prescription”. Obviously, it’s not a substitute for a medical advice, but books can put things in perspective. Whatever’s going on in your life, you can bet someone’s written about it.
The School of Life (the centre addressing the application of philosophy to the everyday) offers bibliotherapy from its Melbourne branch where book devotees Sonya Tsakalakis (a former genetic counsellor) and author Nina Killham have become trained in the modality.
Before attending a bibliotherapy session, participants are required to fill in a questionnaire examining their reading habits. Questions explore everything from the section of the bookshop you hit first to what you read as a kid. A face-to-face bibliotherapy session follows (although, they can be done via Skype for interstate and international clients) for a more in-depth discussion about your book loves, hates, gaps and the purpose for which you’re seeking literary guidance.
Sit-down sessions are conducted in a discrete corner of the School of Life’s café on Bourke Street. A candle on the table, a bowl of nuts and dried fruit and a cup of herbal tea in the offing set a relaxed scene.
Over the space of an hour, a heartfelt discussion follows about life and literature. On the day we visited, our bibliotherapist was Tsakalakis, a gentle, empathetic soul with an encyclopaedic knowledge of books. At the end of the session, Tsakalakis delivered an “instant prescription” – a book to be read ASAP. The prescription was handwritten in fountain pen on the back of a black and white picture postcard.
A few days after, the full prescription is emailed – a detailed and thoughtful four-page letter discussing eight books to satisfy our needs. There’s careful reference to what we’ve discussed and the book choices are bang-on.
Contact the School of Life to book a bibliotherapy session or check out the original bibliotherapist, UK author Susan Elderkin during her talk ‘This Book Will Change Your Life’.