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Recommended Self-Help Books for Healing and Personal Growth
Listed below are excellent self-help books covering various topics, but their common theme is improving one's ability for Self-Care. I tend to recommend books that are straight to the point and easy to read.
My style of therapy emphasizes empowering clients to understand they have the right to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in relationships, and then helping them learn the necessary skills to do so. These books can help facilitate this empowerment process.
THE STRUGGLE FOR INTIMACY, by Janet Geringer Woititz. This is my favorite in a series of books written by this author discussing how growing up in an alcoholic family affects one's ability to form trusting and intimate relationships. All of her books are easy to read, straight to the point, and offer practical suggestions for solving relationship problems. Don't be put off by the fact that her research is based primarily on Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). In fact, anyone growing up in a dysfunctional family will benefit from her insights and suggestions because it is not the alcoholism per se that creates the relationship problems, but the family dysfunction it produces. I highly recommend her books if you are unfulfilled in your relationships.
THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO, by Melody Beattie. The author is not a mental health professional but rather a freelance writer and journalist who in 1986, while struggling as a single mother, came up with an idea for a book: What happens to people who love someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol? Her subsequent book, CODEPENDENT NO MORE, sold more than 3 million copies. She has since written nine more books and, in fact, has become a leading expert on codependency. Her books are easy to read and straight to the point. THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO is a daily meditations reader (one short reading for each day of the year) intended to help you stay focused on healthier ways of interacting with others and yourself. I recommend all her books.
COURAGE TO CHANGE: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, by Al-Anon Family Groups. This is a daily meditations reader (one short reading for each day of the year) to help you stay focused on how to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in relationships. Although the focus is on self-care in the context of being affected by someone else's alcoholism, the reality is that COURAGE TO CHANGE is one of the best self-help books for anyone who struggles with self-care issues. Reading a page a day assists you in remembering to own your own issues and happiness, to be assertive, and to honor the miraculous being that you are. It is an empowering book.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS BIG BOOK, by Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc. The BIG BOOK has served as a lifeline to millions worldwide, virtually inventing the recovery movement. First published in 1939, the BIG BOOK sets forth the cornerstone concepts of recovery from alcoholism and tells the stories of men and women who have overcome the disease. I have personally seen many clients benefit from reading and studying this book and from attending AA meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous may not be the right program for every alcoholic, but it certainly has helped more alcoholics gain sobriety than any other program in world history. Plus, it is free and available just about everywhere. That's a winning combination.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. The author is the clinical director for sexual disorder services at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona, and the nation's leading expert on sexual addiction. OUT OF THE SHADOWS is the premier work on sexual addiction. It clearly describes the consequences of sexual addiction, then with practical wisdom and spiritual clarity points the way out of the shadows of sexual compulsion and back into the light and fullness of life.
CUTTING: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation, by Steven Levenkron. The author is a practicing psychotherapist who brings wisdom and compassion to a difficult topic. Written for the self-mutilator, parents, friends, and therapists, he explains why the disorder manifests in self-harming behaviors and, most of all, describes how the self-mutilator can be helped. This is a powerful and moving book. Levenkron has also written excellent books on anorexia (Anatomy of Anorexia) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders).
FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING: Using the Wisdom of Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The author is the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is internationally known for his work using mindfulness meditation to help medical patients with chronic pain and stress. This impressive book can change your life! The author offers an explanation of how and why mindfulness works to reduce stress, emotional pain, physical pain, and, in general, human suffering. Then he offers techniques of mindfulness to do the same for you. In his practice he works with hundreds of patients suffering from chronic pain, cancer, post-traumatic stress, and other difficult human conditions, and in a few months teaches them how to enjoy life again. This is a powerful book.
THE MINDFUL WAY THROUGH DEPRESSION: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. This impressive book and CD apply the techniques presented in Full Catastrophe Living to coping with depression. Williams, Teasdale, and Segal were reviewing the professional literature for treating depression when they came across the work of Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. Ultimately, they modified his 8-week stress-reduction program into an 8-week program for treating depression in a group setting, which was first presented in their 2001 book, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse, written for therapists and other professionals. Then in 2007 these three authors joined with Kabat-Zinn to write The Mindful Way Through Depression, which modified the 8-week group depression program into an 8-week self-help program for individuals suffering from recurrent depression. As such, this book is written for depressed persons, priced under $20.00, and comes with a 72-minute CD of Kabat-Zinn's meditations to be used as part of the program. The purpose of this book and CD is to expose the manner in which the thinking mind fuels depression and to help chronically depressed persons learn how to make the switch from living in their "stinking thinking" to living in the moment. This approach to treating depression offers a radical shift from many past treatments, but research is showing it to be highly effective. In addition, I have observed in my clinical practice that mindfulness is effective in treating anxiety, excessive worry, and anger. I highly recommend this book to those suffering from depression. This book and CD are a real bargain at the listed price. Get a copy for yourself and work the program to a happier life.
RADICAL ACCEPTANCE: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Brach. The author is a clinical psychologist and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. This warm and wise book presents her technique of Radical Acceptance, which she uses in her psychotherapy practice. "Radical Acceptance reverses our habit of living at war with experiences that are unfamiliar, frightening, or intense. It is the necessary antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of judging and treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment's experience. Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom." By employing the techniques of Radical Acceptance, you will come to know yourself, others, and life from a more realistic and compassionate viewpoint, and in the journey you will find increasing wisdom and peace. I highly recommend this book.
DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF -- and it's all small stuff, by Richard Carlson. Dr. Carlson, a psychologist, wrote this book in 1997 and it became a #1 seller. He offers simple suggestions for creating a more enjoyable and less stressed life. In fact, the book offers a series of techniques to help you perceive the world in less stressful ways. The author has actually created a series of DON'T SWEAT.... books for different situations - at work, with women, with family, etc.
HANDBOOK TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS, by Ken Keyes, Jr. The author of this book was not a mental health professional nor an academic. Rather, Ken Keyes was a successful businessman who contracted polio at age 25 and became a quadriplegic. Seeking to transcend his suffering, he explored many religions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Humanistic Psychology, finally arriving at the belief that "the mind's reaction rather than external circumstances creates personal unhappiness." Keyes found his solution in this insight and went about developing his "Twelve Pathways," which he described as "a modern, practical condensation of thousands of years of accumulated wisdom... [which] give you a minute-to-minute guide for operating your consciousness while you interact with the world around you." In the HANDBOOK TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS, Keyes presents his method of emotional regulation grounded in the Twelve Pathways. Do not be distracted by the cosmic-sounding title or the fact that Ken Keyes was not a mental health professional. This is one of the most practical books ever written on emotional regulation. The famous author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, PhD, said, "Ken Keyes literally got me started on this glorious transformational journey."
THE COURAGE TO HEAL: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. This is the bible of self-help books for recovery from childhood sexual abuse. Although initially written for women, it can be helpful to male survivors as well. This book offers a clear picture of what the process of healing from sexual abuse looks and feels like. A book such as this may trigger painful memories and emotions, so I always instruct my clients to use their best self-care skills when working with this book. That is, they must pace themselves, know when to put the book down, and know when to seek help and support in the process. If this book feels overwhelming to you, seek the assistance of a therapist experienced in working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
THE COURAGE TO HEAL WORKBOOK: For Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, by Laura Davis. This is the companion volume to the book listed above. "Focusing on how-to exercises, this workbook will provide you with practical tools for overcoming the effects of child sexual abuse." Again, if these exercises feel overwhelming to you, seek the assistance of a therapist experienced in working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
SONGS FOR THE INNER CHILD, by Shaina Noll. This is not a book but rather a CD offering a collection of songs, each chosen by Shaina "for the strength of its healing message...I suspected that the experience of being sung to could be deeply healing for many of the adults I knew." Each song is intended to soothe and nurture the inner child, which can be extremely beneficial to survivors of abuse who received little emotional support in childhood. The music is beautiful, too. Highly recommended!
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All Text and most photos by Carl Benedict
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