The right book for the right person is not enough. It needs to be the right book, for the right person at the right time. - Johnny Uzan

Many of us have had the experience of magnetising the perfect book to help us with something we are going through or to guide us in a better direction.

A bibliotherapist, or book curator, helps cultivate this as a regular occurrence rather than the occasional flash of lightning.

Perhaps you first experienced this informally with a librarian.

In the case of Ben John, a young man from England, he unexpected had a taste of bibliotherapy as part of his court sentencing.

After downloading bomb-making instructions, white supremacist documents and writing a hateful letter against gay people and immigrants he found himself entangled with the law.

The judge believed it was loneliness that sucked him into that orbit. Rather than lock Ben up, he offered a suspended sentence on the condition that he read Jane Austens’ Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Book Therapy

My Journey

As a kid, I often chose the same kind of books to read. Then in High School, I was prescribed books in English class. My classmates and I were issued with a book to take home to read and then discuss in class. The teachers had an uncanny knack for knowing what developmental milestone we were wrestling with and which book would help us best navigate it.

Educational systems such as Waldorf go a step further to embed specific books into their curriculum. Sixteen-year-olds get exposed to Parsifal, a novel that Joseph Campbell regarded to be the first spiritual classic of Western literature. The imperative of the protagonist to learn to ask the right questions is preeminent for adolescents too.


After finishing school I found a mentor who constantly drew on his vast knowledge of literature to suggest books that would help me through my early adulthood. I struggled to find my niche vocationally but with the help of career authors, I found my feet. As a careers counsellor, I was able to pay it forward, offering book recommendations to other pilgrims searching for their professions.

Writing a book about career guidance, I sprinkled book recommendations throughout it. My day job at the time was working in a library where I gained more general exposure to being a book therapist offering recommendations to a wide range of customers.

A couple of years later I took a teaching job, tasked with delivering literacy and numeracy classes to people in drug and alcohol rehab centres. Forced to attend the group meetings and often withdrawing from substances, it wasn’t a very open atmosphere. Instead of diving into formal lessons, I would read them extracts from novelists such as Tim Winton. Like magic, they would inevitably open up about their experiences around toxic masculinity, mentors and other meaningful topics.

Presently, I endorse a range of therapeutic literature during life writing courses I teach or through one on one counselling sessions and retreat programs.

Nothing has illuminated my tour through life more than books. Having found my way into counselling work, combining these two aspects through bibliography has become a joy.

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benefits of bibliotherapy

Benefits of Bibliotherapy 


To feel separate, misunderstood or alone in the world is an inextricable part of the human condition. Presented with the right books, we feel as though the author knows us better than we know ourselves — they find the words to describe the fragile, weird, special experiences of our inner lives.

“To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” - André Gide  



book therapist


Books often explore the feeling world, as opposed to the dominant value system of the marketplace with its focus on achievement, status, money and power. Literature allows us to look at things through someone else’s point of view. It allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t; and it shows us examples of kind, generous and sympathetic people.

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adlere



bibliotherapy mental health

Mental Health

Literature broadens us by putting us through infinitely more situations than we could ever directly witness. Memoirs expose us to universal themes and passages of life that we are navigating. Books take us across continents and centuries, curing us of provincialism. In both fiction and non-fiction, characters are invariably different at the end of their journeys than when we first meet them. By reading that people change, we open to growth and busting out of the ruts and routines that flatten our lives.

“But I know that I spent a long time existing, and now I intend to live.”
– An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

How Does Bibliotherapy Work?

Bibliotherapy CBT

how does bibliotherapy work

Cognitive behavioural therapy holds that thought patterns are largely responsible for negative emotional and behavioural patterns.

Our conditioning and self-talk tend to perpetuate distorted beliefs. With the advent of social media and its algorithms, many of us have a mental diet limited to existing beliefs that are reinforced by like-minded people sharing the same ideas.

The novelist, Franz Kafka argued that we take a wholly different approach when it comes to reading materials:

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence… A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

When a book curator prescribes the right book it can challenge and change cognitive distortions and behaviours, improve emotional regulation, and help with the development of personal coping strategies that target current problems.

When humankind lived more simple, nature-based lives one’s tribal medicine men and women drew on herbs and plant remedies to assist with physical ailments. Having entered the information age where people engage their minds more than their bodies in daily work and life, our apothecary is the bibliotherapist, librarian and tuned in counsellor.

Author Louise Hay argued that physical symptoms and illness often begin first in the emotional and mental bodies. Western medicine can offer emergency life-saving surgeries, and temper symptoms but it often misses the root cause. After producing her landmark work, You Can Heal Your Life, she founded Hay House, a publishing company for self-help authors. Such was her belief in books as medicine.

book curator

Therapy is ultimately a quest for wholeness. As much as we’re conditioned to be self-reliant the fact is that none of us can become experts in every field. A bibliotherapist is one whose domain is the world of books and ideas. At the very least, they help us get outside of our own heads and consider different perspectives.

An alternative to having book therapy as a stand-alone meeting is to incorporate it into one of my writing or personal development retreat programs.

In order to personalise a bibliotherapy session, we will start by exploring your reading habits and life circumstances.

After discerning your preferred modes of reading, the format and genres you are open to I then prepare a tailored set of book recommendations written by a variety of authors.

Susan Sontag said that a good book is a creator of inwardness. Once you’ve worked through your reading list, you’ve invited to schedule a follow-up session to integrate what you’ve learned and issue you with another literary prescription to help you further on your journey.

As the author Jim Rohn affirmed, “To get to where you want to be in the next 5 years, you are either reading the right books or you’re not.”

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