Updated: Apr 21
Check out this list of some of my most recommended self-help and personal growth books!
I frequently incorporate bibliotherapy with clients as an adjunct to the therapy we’re doing in session. If you’re not familiar with it, bibliotherapy is simply reading as a means of facilitating healing or meeting therapy goals. Two of the many questions I ask at intakes are, “Are you a reader? Do you prefer print or audiobooks?”
Reading on topics that come up in session and are relevant to concepts we’re working on in therapy can be a great way to keep the brain moving in a similar direction outside of session time. I don’t typically “assign” a book, but I will make recommendations specific to what's going on in therapy.
One of the more valuable takeaways from bibliotherapy comes from learning language and vocabulary for describing feelings and experiences that we often don’t have the right words or language for. We start to learn words for things that didn’t previously have them, we’re better able to identify certain things (patterns, feelings, etc.), and from there we’re able to communicate with ourselves and others about things more effectively. We can gain insight and new ways of thinking about old issues.
My list of books I love is always growing as I add to the library in my office (and in my Kindle!), but these are books I recommend often. If any of them sound good - add them to your summer reading list!
Trusting the Gold by Tara Brach, PhD. This book is just…comforting. It’s rooted in self-compassion and helping us look at ourselves with kindness. When we’re able to do that, we can turn that compassion outward toward others more easily. This book is beautifully illustrated and filled with stories that help uncover and build trust in our own innate goodness, as well as the goodness in others. I know the self-help refrain tends to be built on being broken and needing fixing (I disagree), and Trust the Gold heads in the opposite direction - you needed things you didn't get, here's how to believe in those things and give them to yourself (and others along the way).
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, M.D. There are books that can change our lives and this is one of them. The book follows some of Frankl’s time in Nazi concentration camps, with an emphasis on his unique perspective from within the camps on human will toward finding meaning, even in the darkest of times. Frankl's theory (which he developed before being taken into custody and confirmed through observation while there) asserts that the primary drive for humans isn’t pleasure, but is the discovery and pursuit of what the individual finds meaningful. “That which is to give light must endure burning,” is one of my favorite lines from this amazing book. If you’re looking for ways to create and find meaning, this book is a great place to start.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD. Dr. Gibson explores the impacts of growing up with emotionally unavailable or immature parents. She discusses four types of difficult parents, how to identify the behavior cycles and patterns that you may have picked up from such a parent, and how to heal from the resulting pain. I recommend this book frequently when we’re working on identifying the “why’s” of patterns that a person wants to break, learning how to spot those patterns, and when we’re working on freeing ourselves from the idea that nothing we do is “enough” for people.
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn, PhD. This book is based on the gold standard of Western mindfulness, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Research on mindfulness has exploded in recent years, and we know now that everything from the aging process to chronic illness can benefit from a regular mindfulness practice. I love all of JKZ’s writing, but this book is the ultimate in exploration of the relevant research and self-education on the most researched form of mindfulness for those who are wanting to dive in.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book is deceptively small and the agreements to live by for wellbeing brief, but the effect is profound. Ruiz describes the self-limiting beliefs that we pick up in life that stop us on the journey to wholeness, happiness, and wellness. While the principles are introduced as part of an ancient collective wisdom, the ideas (agreements) contained within are right in sync with cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. CBT is one of the most researched methods for treating anxiety and depression. This book is a simple and powerful way to make a difference in how we think and act.
More than a Body by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhDs. We live in a world that perpetuates the idea that happiness, health, and worthiness are dependent on how we look, and this creates a host of issues that hold us back and cause suffering. This book discusses the research on body image and mental health, unpacks tons of information, and arms you with a plan that helps you reconnect with yourself. I love this book because it really helps to challenge the thinking that we’re presented with as “normal” surrounding our bodies and can help us rethink how we are with ourselves, our bodies, and others.
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD. This book is among my favorites. Dr. Estes explores the instinctual nature of women, how society has shaped us as women, and does so through the lens of myth, fairy tales, and folk tales in Jungian psychology fashion. The stories and commentaries provided in the book are meant to help women find, honor, love, and understand their inner Wild Woman in all her wisdom.
My list here isn't exhaustive - just favorites from your friendly neighborhood counselor.
As always, I'm a therapist, but I'm not your therapist, so if you're struggling with something, reach out to a therapist in your state, talk to a friend, or visit with your regular doctor.