Top 5 Non-Fiction Books for Therapists

Self-care reads are the original chicken noodle soup for the soul.

Posted Jun 30, 2018

Source: pxhere

At the beginning of this year, I published an article (found here) listing some of the best non-fiction reads I’d come across in 2017.  Granted, they were of course not all new publications by any means, but simply ones that had been on my list forever and that I’d finally found time to read.  While I compiled a somewhat diverse list, ranging from books on ADHD to closet organization, I left out a small group of highly specialized and treasured books. 

These are ones that pertain almost exclusively to fellow therapists and which are exceptionally gratifying to read.  There is something about reading from elders, from those who have been in the trenches, that is truly profound and a rarity.  The work we do in the privacy of our offices is often so intimate and vulnerable and yet we rarely, if ever, discuss what happens behind closed doors.  Especially for therapists such as myself who are in private practice and can feel at times isolated, the voices of the authors from the books listed below are like that of mentors.  They are gentle coaches, wise mothers and fathers, the cool aunt who teaches you a trick or two, and experts who have decades of sage experience to draw upon:

Mindful Therapy: A Guide for Therapists and Helping Professionals by Thomas Bien, Ph.D.

One of the most masterfully written books I’ve ever read, Bien’s book touches the soul.  He writes of self-care in the most poetic prose that gives readers pause over the profundity yet simplicity of his words.  One of Bien’s greatest gifts to me as a therapist was the teaching that we must learn when to let go of clients:

“If patients’ difficulties are too much for you, if their interactions with you are too difficult for you despite your best effort to deal with them mindfully, you must recognize and acknowledge this, and then make an appropriate referral.  No one is served by your going down with your patient” (p. 37).

He encourages us to be in touch with the flower within us, so delicate and fragile.  As such, we must always be careful of how we treat ourselves.

Simple Self-Care for Therapists: Restorative Practices to Weave Throughout Your Workday by Ashley Davis Bush, LICSW

A highly practical guide that sits prominently on my bookshelf, this gem is filled with ideas on how to relax, decompress, and energize between clients and at the end of the day.  Bush discusses indulgent micro-self care practices, such as savoring a piece of chocolate each day or drinking tea mindfully as well as macros-self care such as vacations and pedicures.  After reading her book, I promptly filled my office with a hidden angel I could look to in trying sessions, and hand lotion that could rejuvenate my spirit.  This is a book I hope to remember to re-read in the decades to come.  In fact, I wish this were required reading for all clinicians!

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin Yalom, M.D.

This was a book I had intended to read over the years as colleagues seemed to always have a copy on the shelf.  An amazing gift to the therapeutic community from one with decades of wisdom, Yalom’s book reminded me that at the end of the day, everything would be ok.  So many times young therapists become anxious over the smallest of details that are ultimately irrelevant.  Learning from elders reminds us of the gift of our presence with clients and how that can be far more profound than any complicated intervention we ever learned about in graduate school.  Often, as beginning therapists, we are so anxious after learning about countless ethical and legal regulations, that we can become stunted, almost robotic in our neutrality instead of growing in warmth and empathy for our clients.  While of course it takes decades to come to Yalom’s unique position in the psychotherapy world, and one might not immediately be able to integrate all of his wisdom, they are still wise food for thought.

Letters to a Young Therapist by Mary Pipher, Ph.D.

I was thrilled to learn of the existence of this book when Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls in many ways was the one that solidified my desire to be a clinical psychologist back in high school.  Even odder to think that I never thought I would actually end up in a practice of almost exclusively adolescent girls, but I suppose that is the universe for you!  Written as a series of letters to a favorite graduate student, the casual style of this book reminds me of old supervision sessions with favorite clinical supervisors.  Sometimes we talked about clients, and other times it was about hobbies.  But what remained most in our minds were of course never the pearls that our supervisors intended, but rather that seeing movies on Mondays could lift our moods and that taking walks during the lunch hour could save our sanity.  In this book, Pipher is yet another wise mentor to young therapists.

Leaving it at the Office: A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care by John Norcross, Ph.D. and James Guy, Ph.D.

A fantastic reference book that reads much like a title I should have been required to read in graduate school.  Very well researched with tons of the types of statistics that my graduate program would have heartily approved of, this book is an excellent empirical read on the necessity of therapist self-care.  The authors do an excellent job of capturing the aspects of the profession that can at times seem abstract and deducing them down to digestible constructs.  For example, when listing the “hazards” of the profession, they have multiple categories of professional stressors ranging from managed care and paperwork to the one-sided aspect of disclosure in psychotherapy.  Aspects that we readily know intuitively as clinicians, but may have difficulty in naming as astutely as the authors do.  As such, this book does an excellent job of addressing self-care in a concrete manner that would appeal to those who might otherwise eschew the “touchy feely” genre of books on the topic (and yes, those therapists do exist, because after all, we need diversity in all aspects of our field!).

While the list above is certainly biased and flawed in many ways as I have certainly not read every title in this genre, it is at the very least a strong recommendation of the titles above.  There are fortunately many more of such books that I have yet to discover, and hopefully more being written every day, as such titles are desperately needed in our profession.  As therapists feel more and more pressure each day with staggering caseloads, more severe clients, and reduced compensation and time away, reminders of self-care are critical if the profession is to survive. 

As such, I beseech you, fellow therapists, to at the very least consider picking up a book; it needn’t even be one that is listed above.  Simply one that speaks to your soul.  Because when you are doing the incredibly special work that you are, day in and out, you deserve to nourish yourself through the wise words of others.  Ones that don’t have to come out of your mouth, directed at clients.  It is a form of personal therapy, healing, and respite.