Whether you are one of my current clients, someone considering counseling, or someone halfway across the world just looking for resources, here are some of my favorite books that I believe may be helpful to you.
These books can be useful in conjunction with counseling/psychotherapy but they can also be great resources on their own!
Click on the links below to jump to a particular section:
Books on Authenticity, Self-Acceptance, & Personal Growth:
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown
I’ve loved everything I’ve read so far by Brené Brown, a nationally and internationally renowned researcher on shame, vulnerability, and authenticity (of TED Talk fame).
In this book, Brown shares her “ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living” — a way of embracing our vulnerabilities and imperfections and engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. This book teaches us how to have courage and self-compassion and to be open to more authentic connections with other people, accepting and embracing rather than fearing our vulnerability.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown
Another fantastic book by Brené Brown, who has spent her career studying shame, vulnerability, and authenticity.
Brown took the title for this book from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Here, Brown shares findings from her research on vulnerability and shame resilience, showing us how to cultivate a deep sense of worthiness and belonging (what she calls “Wholeheartedness”) through daring greatly in many aspects of our own lives — in everything from business and education to intimate relationships and parenting.
I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, by Brené Brown
Yet another fantastic book by Brené Brown. Like Daring Greatly, this book discusses shame, especially as it plays out in the lives of women.
Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” In this book, she discusses what makes women vulnerable to shame, how to counteract shame with empathy and connection, and how to cultivate shame resilience.
This is a fantastic book for women who may be struggling with feelings of self-judgment or unworthiness and who are striving to increase their self-compassion, self-acceptance, and authenticity in their lives.
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
Written by Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, this book is both a memoir of Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps and also a testament to the importance of finding and creating meaning in all aspects of our life experience — including brutal and horrific ones. Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but that we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, this book had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. What’s more, a 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a “book that made a difference in your life” found this book to be among the 10 most influential books in America!
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn has been internationally recognized within the academic community as well as the general public as an expert in mindfulness. This book was originally published in 1994 and soon became a major bestseller — for good reason. It’s now a classic in the mindfulness literature (but absolutely approachable for the average person who may not have had much exposure to mindfulness before). Kabat-Zinn introduces us to mindfulness practice in everyday life in a straightforward, matter-of-fact, yet transformative way.
This is an excellent introduction to mindfulness — or for those who already have some experience, a great reminder of how to get back to basics. I first read it back in the early 2000s but recently reread it and found new gems and insights hidden in its pages.
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Another classic, groundbreaking book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, internationally recognized expert on the subject of mindfulness. This book is based on his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program and looks more closely at how mindfulness practice can enhance both our physical and mental health. He explores the links between stress, psychological symptoms, and physical illnesses (including chronic pain) from a scientific/medical perspective — and he shows you how to use proven mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga to counteract stress, establish greater balance of body and mind, and stimulate both physical and emotional well-being and healing.
A wonderful read, especially for those struggling with the physical manifestations of stress (e.g. fatigue, sleep disturbance, digestive issues, reduced immunity, chronic pain, etc.) or those who are interested in learning more about the scientific/medical research on mindfulness. (While this book does discuss medical/scientific research findings, it’s still very accessible to the average person who doesn’t have a medical or scientific background).
The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, & Jon Kabat-Zinn
While this book is geared toward those who struggle with depression, it is by no means only applicable to this population. If anxiety, rumination, negative or self-critical thoughts sound familiar to you, this book is highly applicable for you too.
The authors draw upon their research on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to show us how the “doing” (or problem-solving) mode of mind can actually contribute to the cycle of chronic unhappiness, and how activating the “being” (or non-judgmental and observing) mode can actually lead to greater peace, self-compassion, and joy. If you struggle with negative, ruminative thinking (and especially if you have the sense that going over and over your difficulties in your mind is somehow going to help you solve them) this book is absolutely for you.
The book outlines an 8-week program (based on the MBCT treatment program). It also comes with a companion CD with guided instructions for each of the practice exercises in the book, so you can move through the program at your own pace with the help of the guided audio.
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, by Bob Stahl & Elisha Goldstein.
Based on the world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts (who also wrote the book’s introduction), this workbook is an excellent introduction to mindfulness practice. It is easy to understand and very approachable, while also offering a wealth of knowledge on how mindfulness can help in not only the reduction of stress, but also in alleviating other distressing emotions. It contains a number of great practice exercises as well as a CD (or, in newer editions, a web link) with audio-guided instructions to all of the exercises contained in the book.
I’ve used many of these exercises in mindfulness-based groups that I have run in the past and found this book to be an invaluable resource.
How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, by Pema Chödrön
I love everything I’ve read by Pema Chödrön, but this book is really exceptional as an introduction to mindfulness meditation as well as mindfulness practice in daily life. Chödron (an American-born Tibetan nun) brings her characteristic attitude of humor mixed with real humanity to the subject, making it approachable and anything but intimidating. This book is a great resource not only on the subject of mindfulness meditation specifically but also on self-compassion and how to find joy in the present moment more generally — or, as she says, “making friends with your mind.”
This is a book I’ve read multiple times (and will probably read again) — and that I recommend to anyone wanting to get started with mindfulness practice or meditation. It’s a wonderful resource for beginners and more advanced practitioners alike.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön
Another wonderful book by Pema Chödrön. With her characteristic humor and authenticity, Chödrön shares a wealth of wisdom on how to take care of ourselves and grow even during times when we are feeling overwhelmed by pain and difficulties (and especially during those times!). She discusses how we can use our painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and courage as well as how to communicate more effectively so that others will open up to us rather than shut down. She also shares practices for reversing habitual patterns and methods for working with chaotic situations.
Books on Couples, Relationship, & Sexual Issues:
The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, by John Gottman & Nan Silver
Written by renowned couples and relationship expert John Gottman (co-founder of The Gottman Institute along with his wife, Julie Schwartz Gottman), this classic couples book is a great place to start for many couples, whether they are experiencing challenges now or just getting started in their lives together and wanting to make sure they stay on the right track.
Gottman teaches new approaches for resolving conflicts (whether they be about money, sex, work, family, or other issues), creating common ground, and achieving higher levels of intimacy. The book includes quizzes and practical exercises to try at home — a great book to read and work through together to strengthen your relationship.
This book is a fantastic resource for couples who want to work on building a sense of trust and enhanced intimacy in their relationship. Sue Johnson is one of the developers of Emotion Focused Therapy for couples, which is based on an attachment model of psychology and which has been supported by a great deal of research.
In this book, Johnson shares this model with the general public (no psycho-jargon here!) to help you benefit from this scientifically supported approach to couples therapy.
Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship, by Stan Tatkin
A great book for couples who are looking to build greater security in their relationships, defuse conflicts, and feel closer and more connected to one another.
Tatkin shares cutting-edge information about the neurobiology of attachment and helps couples use this information to understand themselves, their partners, and their relationship dynamics. He discusses how our emotions and physiology are regulated interactively and how we can use our knowledge of brain chemistry to avoid pushing each other’s buttons and mutually soothe and calm one another in intimate relationships.
This book is full of interesting brain science — but the author discusses neurobiology in a totally approachable way and makes it accessible to the average person.
How Can I Get Through to You? Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women, by Terrence Real
There are a lot of books out there on couples and relationships, many of which I find either too basic or just reinforcing gender stereotypes — or all saying the same thing in slightly different ways. This book by couples and relationship expert Terrence Real does not fall into that camp and is one of the best couples books I’ve found yet. Real’s pioneering work on male depression led him to investigate dynamics in couples and how our sociocultural norms and expectations often get in the way of real, satisfying intimacy. He demonstrates how partners can find their voices, feel more empowered in their relationships, and regain intimacy and connection. I highly recommend this book, even to those who have read a lot of other couples books — this one is different.
Note: This book is written with male-female couples in mind and discusses how gender norms and differences in how boys and girls are raised end up impacting communications patterns and creating “emotional stumbling blocks” in many of these couples. That being said, it may still be useful to same-sex couples who are struggling with disconnection in their relationship.
(I also highly recommend other books by Terrence Real on men’s experience of depression, most notably I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression.)
Men, Women and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough, by Brené Brown
In this audiobook lecture, Brené Brown — expert on shame, authenticity, and the importance of embracing our vulnerabilities (see above) — speaks about how shame impacts our ability to see ourselves as worthy of love and belonging and to develop intimacy and trust in relationships. She discusses the different cultural messages that men and women receive and how these impact their experiences of shame. She offers recommendations for a path toward worthiness and whole-hearted relationships.
This audiobook is relevant for individuals who struggle with shame and have difficulty trusting in their own worthiness and lovability. It is also very relevant for couples — or anyone wishing to work on improving intimacy and authenticity in their relationships.
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, by Esther Perel
An excellent (and unique) book about sex and relationships. Psychotherapist Esther Perel (of TED Talk fame) discusses some of the reasons why otherwise happy couples sometimes struggle to maintain sexual desire and excitement in their relationships — and what to do about it. Perel shows couples how to “navigate between the comfort of happy relationships and the thrilling uncertainty of sexual attraction.”
A native Belgian who did her studies is Israel and now lives the in US, Perel brings a uniquely cross-cultural perspective to the conversation about sex and love. This book is written for both married and unmarried couples, gay and straight, from all cultural backgrounds.
Books on Parenting Issues & Third Culture Kids:
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David Pollock & Ruth Van Reken
This book is a fantastic resource for parents raising children abroad or in an intercultural context (a.k.a. “Third Culture Kids”), as well as for anyone who works with such children (e.g., healthcare professionals, teachers).
The authors draw upon a rich body of research and many wonderful individual examples to highlight some of the unique benefits of the third culture kid (TCK) experience as well as the challenges and struggles these kids often face. They offer helpful suggestions for how parents and other adults can help TCKs navigate the process of identity development as they grow up in and among different cultural worlds and maximize the benefits of their intercultural upbringings.
This book might also be of interest to adult third culture kids (ATCKs) and their partners, as it describes some of the challenges that — if unresolved — can follow TCKs into adulthood. For some ATCKs, this book may help them make sense of their experiences and come to feel a greater sense of community and belonging with others who have grown up among worlds.
The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, and Connection, by Brené Brown
In this audiobook lecture, Brené Brown — expert on shame, authenticity, and the importance of embracing our vulnerabilities (see above) — turns her attention and wisdom to the subject of parenting.
Brown argues that — despite what everyone around you might be saying — being an imperfect parent is not the same thing as being an inadequate one. In fact, learning to accept and even embrace your imperfections may be a gift to your children, giving them the permission and courage to embrace their own imperfections and vulnerabilities and helping them grow into whole-hearted adults who believe in their own worthiness.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown
In this fantastic book, Brené Brown discusses the importance of cultivating vulnerability and shame resilience in a number of different areas of our lives, including parenting — and how to raise what she calls “Wholehearted” children, who have a deep sense of their own worthiness and belonging. (See above for more information.)
Relevant to parents and non-parents alike.