Book Therapy: London

Fiction to free you from work frustrations? A tome to treat tension with the in-laws? Well, yes. Why not? That's what Ella Berthoud believed while studying English at Cambridge University. Although she switched from word artistry to painting after college, Berthoud never let go of a dream to become a "book doctor" (someone who prescribes fiction for people's ailments). In the midst of a flourishing painting career in 2007, she opened a bibliotherapy practice. Now, she's the bibliotherapist on-call at The School of Life, a center offering a diverse range of programs and services that explore ways to lead a better life.

Founded by Alain de Botton, a Swiss philosopher and author of The Architecture of Happiness and The Art of Travel, The School of Life does important, often unrecognized work. There are schools for mostly everything: driving, cooking, beauty and technology. However, when it comes to learning the skills needed to live a fulfilled, optimum life, well, we're supposed to pick those up while doing our times tables. It's no wonder the self-help shelf at the bookstore needs constant re-stocking, we yearn for the tools to live better lives.

School of Life-Conversation Menu in restaurant
School of Life-Conversation Menu in restaurant

This is just what SOL offers at the Bloomsbury, London location headed by creative producer Morgwn Rimel. Among the on-site course offerings are: Resilience One Day Workshop (NOV 12), How to Be Cool (NOV 17), How to Have Better Conversations (DEC 8 ) and their alternative Sunday Sermons, where they serve sticky buns. On January 22, 2012 de Botton will direct a special sermon/book launch for Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion. The event's ticket price includes an advance hardback copy of the book.

According to Reece Prince Watson of Purple PR, which represents The School of Life, the center is "currently exploring lots of possibilities for taking The School of Life to other cities worldwide." In the meantime, those ailing outside the UK can take advantage of the clever fiction-as-therapy sessions with Berthoud. She is available by phone or Skype to discuss patients' reading and major life preoccupations/events. After which, she'll prescribe approximately eight novels as treatment.