Summer Reading: 20 Mental Health Books That Can Change Your Life
The summer, a season known for slowing down, is the perfect time for catching up on the books collecting dust on your nightstand and getting a few new reads.
To celebrate the official start of summer — and to give you some ideas — we asked several therapists to share the books that’ve been especially profound for their clients and themselves.
So, whether you’re flying to far-off places, taking a road trip, lounging by the water or just have a few more minutes to yourself, consider adding these potentially life-changing reads to your list.
- Bonds that Make Us Free and Leadership and Self-Deception by C. Terry Warner. “[These books] literally changed my life,” said Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s mental health, postpartum and parenting. (Hibbert also is the author of the forthcoming memoir This Is How We Grow, and she’s sharing excerpts from her book here.)
Hibbert frequently uses both books with clients and recommends them to everyone she knows. “They show us a whole new way to view relationships—to see when we are ‘in the box,’ meaning, not seeing anything but our own thoughts, feelings, and opinions—and how to get ‘out of the box’—how to let go and simply love.”
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. “In our culture, we spend so much time nurturing our IQ that we tend to ignore our EQ,” according to John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. But it’s our emotional intelligence that contributes greatly to making us successful in all areas of our lives, including work and relationships, he said. “The book is simple and easy to understand, and priceless.”
- The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. This book is a staple in Hibbert’s therapy sessions. “I use the exercises with clients all the time to help them see their ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides and learn to lovingly embrace both while continually improving.”
- Being and Loving by Althea Horner. In his practice, clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, regularly sees “the conflict between being a whole self and being in intimate relationships with other people.” This book, he said, gives readers guidance on what to do about this common conflict.
- The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Hibbert described both books as “game changers, teaching us how to embrace our spiritual selves, be present in each moment, and let go of our ‘ego,’ thereby choosing to let go of all that causes us pain.”
- The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. Howes’s clients have told him that this book is a “user’s manual for life.” “It helps people distinguish being loved from being needed, and contributes a spiritual element that is missing from many self-help books.”
- Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey. Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance, has recommended this book to countless clients with ADHD. She worked with one client in particular who spent many years undiagnosed and labeled as lazy, unreliable and underachieving. In addition to ADHD, he also struggled with low self-esteem and depression.
This book, along with therapy and medication, helped him heal his depression, feel better about himself, improve his relationship with his longtime girlfriend, and find a career that suits his strengths. “The case examples and practical suggestions [in the book] were normalizing, validating and structuring in developing a new way of managing his time, possessions and even his relationships.”
- Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards. Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression, suggested this book to “adults who are starting over or setting up a new chapter in their lives.”
- The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne. “With exercises on relaxation, visualization, breathing, thought management, and so forth, this book takes the reader through practical, hands-on techniques to help them overcome anxiety, worry, and fears,” Hibbert said.
- Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Howes works with many Christian clients who believe they need to deplete themselves in order to be a good partner, parent, friend and Christian. “This book does a great job of using Biblical teachings to help people prioritize their own self-care and say ‘no’ when they should.”
- Darkness Visible by William Styron. According to Serani, “[this] is a short but textured read about unipolar disorder, otherwise called major depression.”
- The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. This was Hibbert’s favorite read of the year, which even inspired her therapy group on personal growth. It teaches readers how to be open in our lives and allow ourselves to experience the negative emotions that hold us back.
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Both Howes and Marter recommended this book. It was specifically life-changing for Marter’s client who spent years trying to control her husband’s drinking, to no avail. This book helped her realize that she needed to focus on her own behaviors, instead of her husband’s. She stopped her codependent behaviors and poured her efforts into her powerful work in therapy and Al-Anon.
“The result was a new life of healthy detachment, self-care and boundaries that resulted in a well-planned intervention, then a divorce, and finally a rebirth into a life of empowerment, peace and wellness.”
This book isn’t just helpful for addiction, but “is relevant to anybody with extreme caretaking tendencies with another adult who may be suffering from depression, narcissism or other mental health issues,” added Marter, who also pens the Psych Central blog “The Psychology of Success in Business.”
- A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. Serani said this book “is a must read for anyone moving through the trauma of child abuse.”
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Hibbert uses the book with all her couples clients. “Learning to speak each other’s ‘language’ is one of the single best methods I’ve learned to immediately improve intimate and marital relationships, and also parent-child, family, and, basically, all types of relationships.”
- Electroboy by Andy Berhman. Serani recommended this book for anyone who’d like to better understand bipolar disorder.
- Facing the Fire by John Lee. Howes, who also authors the blog In Therapy, recommends this book to his male clients who struggle with anger. “Lee describes why we need anger, why we avoid it, and how to express it constructively. It’s direct and practical, and uses jargon-free language to help people use anger to help rather than destroy.”
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. “[This] is one of my favorite books of all time,” Hibbert said. “Dr. Frankl’s memoir of surviving a Nazi concentration camp, this book is completely inspiring, teaching us to discover the meaning and purpose in life, no matter what challenges we face.
Which books resonate with you?
Which books are on your summer reading list?
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Summer Reading: 20 Mental Health Books That Can Change Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/summer-reading-20-mental-health-books-that-can-change-your-life/