NYC's Bibliotherapist Prescribes Reading Lists Rather Than Medicine

NYC's Bibliotherapist Prescribes Reading Lists Rather Than Medicine

Maggie Coughlan
May 9, 2017

Sometimes a good book is just what the doctor ordered, especially if you can snag an appointment with New York City's bibliotherapist, who prescribes reading lists rather than medicine to help her patients.

Bibliotherapy is defined as the use of books as therapy to treat mental or psychological disorders. That means instead of writing patients a prescription for medicine, a bibliotherapist will create a year-long 12-book plan (one book a month) designed to ease what ails you.

Thrillist caught up with Noreen Tomassi, the Big Apple's resident bibliotherapist. Tomassi — who does not have a medical degree (she has a degree in psychology) — is the executive director of the Center For Fiction (17 E. 47th Street), a non-profit literary organization dedicated to celebrating fiction.

"How anyone who rides the NYC subway five days a week manages to stay sane is a mystery," she told the website. "In this beautiful, nasty, vibrant, and difficult city, people need oases for reflection."

A 45-minute session (which costs $150) begins with Tomassi asking her patient what they would like to accomplish through bibliotherapy and gathering some biographical information concerning their career, lifestyle and reading habits. During the meeting, Tomassi will continue to explore the details surrounding the patient's goal.

"When we read, our breathing patterns change. Our bodies begin to slow themselves — to relax."

Two weeks and a great deal of research later, Tomassi delivers her patient their prescribed reading list in a PDF file. Each title is accompanied by a brief synopsis of the text and how it relates to the patient and the problems they are hoping to solve.

While Tomassi is aware that in many cases psychiatry is a crucial resource, she focuses her practice on the idea that great literature can provide a deep understanding of the human condition.

"There are several studies that go so far as to suggest that when we read, our breathing patterns change. Our bodies begin to slow themselves — to relax," she said.

Despite her desire to help her patients, one genre you won't find on Tomassi's lists is self-help.

"A book on dealing with debt will never be as revealing was Dickens's 'Little Dorrit,'" Tomassi told Thrillist. "Tolstoy is a genius at describing the many ways we love, both destructively and generously — I truly believe stories make us better people."

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