Re-reading “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” for last month’s column, I was reminded of how very, very useful –even lifesaving– a good self-help book can be. Since I had been meaning for years to make a list of the self-help books that clients, friends, and colleagues have found the most helpful and effective for particular situations or conditions, I thought I’d use this column to do exactly that.
While self-help books and professional therapy are not interchangeable (you wouldn’t perform your own heart surgery, but books can teach you how to keep your heart healthy, and how to best support post-surgical healing), a good self-help book can provide invaluable education on a particular condition, and on ways to prevent, to cope, or to help to heal.
Books that are meant to guide us through developmental transitions (adolescence, mid-life, retirement) and other “passages” (such as pregnancy or divorce), may be particularly helpful. Life transitions have stages or phases, each of which is associated with particular emotional reactions and “developmental tasks.” Since transitions are a normal part of life, a book that provides a map of the territory and suggestions about how to navigate it may be all the “help” we need.
Other self-help books can open our eyes to different ways of looking at situations, relationships, and ourselves. On our own, we can only view ourselves and our circumstances through the lenses we’ve been given and exposed to, which limits the range of options we can see. When we are introduced to other perspectives, our options for responding can expand also.
In the process of putting together the list below, I asked several of the wisest therapists I know to add their own top favorite titles to my list. From the responses I received, I found that we share many of the same “go-to” titles. Others were new to me, and I look forward to reading those, too.
So here’s that list, organized by topic, and starting with relationships: something everyone has!
on relationship building, change, and repair:
“The Dance of Anger” by Dr. Harriet Lerner
“Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Dr. John Gottman
“After the Honeymoon: How Conflict Can Improve Your Relationship” by Daniel B. Wile
“Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie (This book is especially useful for those who find themselves taking too much responsibility for someone else’s problems)
“After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful” by Janis A. Spring)
“Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Attending the Heart” by Stephen Levine),
“Healing the Grieving Heart” by Allan Wolfelt
on Bipolar Disorder:
“Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder” by Julie Fast and John Preston
“Bipolar Disorder for Dummies” (yup, that series has everything!) by Candida Fink and Joe Kraynak
on mindfulness practice approaches (including what science knows about how it helps us change our brains):
“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodren
“Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” by Rick Hanson and Daniel J. Siegel
on changing our mood states (anxiety, depression) by changing our thought habits:
“Mind Over Mood” by Dennis Greenberger, Ph.D., and Christine A. Padesky, Ph.D.
“Feeling Good” David D. Burns, M.D.
on changing the ways our emotional “past” affects our emotional “present”:
“Getting Past Your Past” by Francine Shapiro
on generally taking charge of living life more effectively:
“Just One Thing” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
“Spontaneous Happiness” by Andrew Weil, M.D.
on perspectives on depression (spiritual, psychological, and philosophical):
“ Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey Through Depression,” edited by Tami Simon
Finally, there’s a book just out by a psychiatrist and his comedian daughter that is very much worth checking out. It’s by Michael I. Bennett, M.D. and Sarah Bennett, with the provocative title, “F*ck Feelings!”
Dontcha just want to look that one up first?
Now it’s your turn! What are the books (self-help or other) that have helped you to cope with a challenge, or to otherwise change your life for the better? Since we’re fast approaching both the season of gift-giving and of New Years’ resolutions (and because the list above doesn’t even begin to cover the important self-help topics that exist), I’d like to devote the December blog to readers’ recommendations. So if you have a book or books to suggest, send a comment with your suggestion through this blogsite. Let me know whether or not I can use your name (anonymity will be respected if requested), and please include a sentence or two about why you like the title(s) you recommend, so that I can pass that information on to readers, too.
Meanwhile, I’m reading “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness” by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Stay tuned for more about the whole topic of “mindfulness” in January!
(Thanks to Donna Hirt, L.C.S.W., Dr. Julia Smith, L.P.C., Carol Zancanella, L.C.S.W., Pat Berman, L.C.S.W., Steven Woolpert, L.P.C. and Dr. Susannah Castle, PsyD. for contributing to this list).