Books have tremendous power. They can move us to feel deep emotion. They can educate us. They can allow us to travel back or forward in time. They can help us address and overcome challenges we may face. There are countless excellent books available that address behavioral health issues. This post is here to highlight some of the best of those works that I have read.
I am nearly constantly reading books from the field of behavioral health, reading novels only when on vacation. The bookshelves in my office are full of the titles I have read and there is a special section in my bookshelves where I keep the books that I have found to be particularly enlightening and helpful. It is from this selection that I culled my “most recommended” titles to review and share with you. While I probably could have done a write-up on each of these books, I have limited myself to a “Top 10” listing.
In some ways this feels like book report assignments that I had to do in elementary school days. However, unlike those book reports, I have actually read the books that I will review here! (Apologies to my elementary school teachers).
I give reading recommendations to my clients when I feel that gaining a deeper understanding of the issues they are facing would be beneficial for them. And honestly, this is most of the time. I know that I personally find a certain type of relief if I am able to understand what I am experiencing. For example, even if it is something as simple as the common cold, understanding what my body is doing in an attempt to fight off an infection allows me to be somewhat less disturbed by the symptoms I am experiencing. It also enables me to make informed decisions about what I can do to alleviate my suffering. (Such as drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate Vitamin C, etc.)
The same goes for behavioral health issues. When we better understand the dynamics of what is happening, we can be less disturbed by them and may use this knowledge to inform our efforts to alleviate our suffering.
I have attempted to pick from a variety of titles that cover a wide range of issues. So, without further ado, here is my “Top 10 List of Recommended Books” (in no particular order):
#10: Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns
This is perhaps the most popular self-help book ever written, and with good reason. Dr. David Burns popularized what is now considered the gold standard for treating depression and anxiety: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT for short). This book does an excellent job of introducing the reader to CBT and explains how to apply it in order to address depression and anxiety.
CBT is based on the basic idea that the way that we think about or interpret the events in our lives shapes our emotional reactions to these events. Therefore, if we wish to change the way that we feel, we need to change the way that we think. Feeling Good also introduces us to the most common types of thoughts that cause negative or unwanted emotions. These happen so quickly and often outside of our conscious awareness that they are labeled “automatic thoughts.” Dr. Burns describes each of these and how to identify when they are operating. He then goes on to describe how to shift these thoughts to where they will generate less negative or unwanted emotions.
My favorite and most referenced portion of this book is a chapter titled “Verbal Judo.” This chapter addresses how to handle criticism, and brilliantly uses the analogy of the martial art Judo, where you absorb and redirect the energy of your attacker rather than meet force with force. It is such an artful approach in that it is highly effective and easy to grasp. I think this chapter alone makes the book a worthwhile read.
#9: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne
Anxiety is a very common issue in our society. We are living increasingly demanding and hectic lives that place more demands on us and allow for shrinking amounts of time that we can dedicate to relaxing or rewarding pursuits. (See my last blog about stress management for more ideas on how to cope with this issue.) For those of us that suffer from any form of anxiety (panic attacks, worry, post-traumatic stress, agoraphobia, or other phobias), thankfully The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook is available to provide relief.
This book most closely mirrors the treatment that you would receive from a therapist to address anxiety issues. In my practice, I take a three-pronged approach to treating anxiety: 1) education (what is happening within our bodies and brains and why), 2) coping skills (what can we do to effectively calm ourselves), and 3) lifestyle issues (how does the way we live life impact anxiety). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook does an excellent job on touching on all three of these areas.
#8: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Understanding our innate needs for a balance between social contact and alone time is important. All of us differ in what that balance will look like. The field of behavioral health uses the terms introverted and extroverted to describe these different types of personality traits. People who are high on the trait of extroversion are very social by nature. They enjoy being with others, thrive in crowds, tend to be gregarious, and are energized after having social contact. Conversely, people who are high on the trait of introversion prefer small, intimate groups or one on one conversations, appreciate alone and quiet time, and tend to feel depleted after having social contact.
Quiet argues that we, as a society, over-value extroversion and under-value introversion. We tend to view introversion as something that people should be coaxed out of rather than something that should be cherished. The author does a tremendous job of encouraging people who are introverted by nature to honor this aspect of themselves and resist social pressure to think of this as a weakness or something to be changed. She speaks of the unique gifts and strengths of introverted people and encourages our society as a whole to learn to respect and value these.
This is a great book for someone who is introverted and wants to learn more about how to appreciate this aspect of their personality or for a loved one of someone who is introverted and who wants to learn more about this aspect of their loved one’s personality.
#7: The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver
Conflicts within our marriage or any committed relationship can have a dramatic impact on our overall satisfaction in life. Thankfully, The 7 Principles is available to help us learn about how these conflicts operate and what can be done to work through them and minimize the potential destruction they can potentially cause.
Dr. Gottman and Nan Silver explain how they have been studying relationship dynamics by observing couples as they interact and, specifically, fight. They identify the different things that couples do that lead them to have either healthy and productive conflicts or unhealthy and destructive ones. Beyond identifying these healthy or unhealthy patterns, they also provide tangible and useful suggestions on how to create more positive interactions between you and your partner.
If you are in a relationship that is creating conflicts, stress, or unhappiness in your life, then this book is a must read.
#6: Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy by Cynthia Kuhn, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilkie Wilson
Substance use is something that has various effects on people’s lives. From those of us who are able to recreationally use various substances with little to no negative consequences, to those of us who struggle with serious addiction issues, Buzzed is a great resource for direct and non-biased information on nearly every drug available.
While we, as a country, have taken many approaches to getting people to be more responsible with their choices around substance use, we often have mixed results. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the “Just Say No” campaign was in full swing. It focused on helping children learn how to resist and decline opportunities to acquire and use drugs. The take-home message was that drugs are bad and we shouldn’t do drugs, as famously referenced in South Park:
While this approach arguably had an impact by lowering rates of substance use, from a psychological standpoint, this approach is not a robust and thorough way to approach the addiction issue. The authors of Buzzed have taken the approach that can be boiled down to: “Just say know.” They come from the viewpoint that offering clear information about substances, their effects, and possible consequences of use is the best way to allow for people to make informed decisions about the use of these substances. I believe that this is a much more effective way to approach the issue. as well as being more respectful of a person’s autonomy.
The book can be helpful for people at any age who seek to learn more about these substances, but it is geared towards readers in late adolescence and early adulthood (ages 16-24). If it were up to me, I would give a copy to every person as they enter their teenage years and have to begin to make decisions about whether or not to use substances and if “Yes,” to what extent.
#5: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Earlier I listed The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work which is based on how to identify and correct problematic and destructive patterns that can develop within a long-term relationship. While The 5 Love Languages is technically another book that deals with relationships, I have included it on my top 10 list because it really has such a drastically different approach to relationship issues.
This book does not deal with conflict in relationships directly, though it can be helpful in addressing them, nonetheless. Instead, this book explores how love and affection are expressed in a relationship. The authors present the 5 different ways in which people express and receive love. It seems that when partners are feeling unloved, unappreciated and undervalued, typically, it is because the partners are not using the same ‘love language.”
Being able to name and identify these different styles of communication is very helpful for couples to understand why partners may be feeling unloved, even when the other partner feels that nothing could be further from the truth. This book is most helpful when both partners in a relationship read it, as this allows for them to be on the same page, with the same understanding and vocabulary.
#4: Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep by Colleen Carney and Rachel Manber
Issues with insomnia are one of the most common issues I see in my practice. This is no surprise with the amount of stress that most of us face on a daily basis. Added to stress, the ways in which technology interferes in our natural ability to regulate our sleep makes it almost impossible to avoid having issues with sleep at some point in our lives.
While the subtitle indicates that it is geared towards helping those with mental or physical health issues, I would argue that anybody dealing with sleep issues could benefit from reading this book. The reason for that is that the book does a wonderful job of educating the reader on how our body regulates and initiates sleep and the things that happen that can disrupt these natural processes. While mental or physical health issues are common culprits, there are a diverse number of reasons why we can get off track with our sleep.
Once the book covers the educational piece, it gets into specific recommendations for how to address the sleep problems you may be facing. The suggestions and advice are clinically sound, based on current sleep research. This is my go-to resource when someone is having a hard time sleeping, and I believe that you will find it helpful and easy to read.
#3: An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
One of the most troubling and confusing conditions that people can deal with is bipolar disorder. Not only is it a potentially very serious and complicated condition in and of itself, but the misconceptions of the general public about this disorder greatly add to the difficulties facing someone who suffers from this disorder.
Thankfully, there is the clear and piercing light of An Unquiet Mind to cut through the dark and help us understand this condition. The author is in a unique position of being able to enlighten readers due to her being both a clinical psychologist and a person who has bipolar disorder. She bravely shares her personal story of living with this illness while also being able to give clear and concise clinical information about the condition.
This book is helpful for either the individual dealing with bipolar disorder, or the loved ones of such a person. I commend this author for her efforts in educating the public on this illness in hopes of decreasing the associated stigma, and in encouraging people to get quality care for this condition.
#2: I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Harris
This is the oldest book on the list, having been originally published in 1969. It is a book that explains a rather complicated clinical framework called transactional analysis (TA), which grew out of psychoanalysis (as made famous by Sigmund Freud). To be completely honest, when I was first exposed to TA in graduate school I was not moved by the theory. At that time, I did not see how it could be clinically useful due to it being, in my view, a rather antiquated approach. However, this changed once I read this book.
The author does a wonderful job at describing some complex psychological concepts in an easy-to-understand fashion. Being rooted in psychoanalytical thought, this book is most helpful in gaining a deeper understanding into our psyche and the subconscious mind. It can aid the reader in gaining a better understanding of why we react emotionally the way we do.
#1: Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line by Jane Bluestein
The last book on my top 10 list is one that addresses the area of parenting. I began my career as a counselor before I had children. Now that I have two daughters of my own, I find that I counsel issues of parenting differently. I have a deeper understanding and respect for how challenging the role of a parent can be. I also read parenting books with a dual awareness. On the one hand, I read them gauging their clinical utility to either teach me or my clients new perspectives. On the other hand, I read them gauging how useful they could be to me as a parent. This is one book that did a great job of checking both boxes.
While, as you can gather from the title, this book is geared towards parents of teenagers, it can be helpful for parents of children of any age. The process of setting boundaries ideally starts from the moment you gain the privilege and responsibility of being a parent. In this usage, boundaries means a line or rule of what is acceptable in terms of the behavior of our children. It is being able to say no and then consistently enforcing that. If we have said no to a child asking for candy at the store, having good boundaries means that we do not eventually give in to their continued asking, their escalating negativity, or presenting us with a full-blown melt-down tantrum.
By the time our children have become teenagers, their attempts to get us to change our minds or manipulate us have changed in style and sophistication. After defining in more depth what boundaries are and why they are important, this book does a good job of helping us understand how our teenage children attempt to challenge us and gives concrete strategies for how to maintain your boundaries. For any parent who is exasperated with their teenagers, this book is a great place to start.
I hope that you will utilize any of these titles if they address issues with which you are dealing. I will continue with my reading and buying bigger bookshelves to accommodate the new titles and will share my reviews of what I have read. I plan to do an annual book review of the works I have read during the year. Until then, happy reading to you!