By Topic – Best Self-Help Books
There are so many self-help and psychology books currently available that it can be bewildering to know which ones are particularly helpful. The following recommended self-help books, listed by topic, are all books that I highly recommend. I’ve also included some memoirs and novels which I think are particularly valuable.
- Beyond Childlessness: For Every Woman Who Ever Wanted To Have A Child And Didn’t (Rachel Black & Louise Scull) – this is an emotionally supportive book for those who are childless. The interviews and stories of deep despair reach out from the pages and offer a stretched out hand of understanding to those who are also trying to come to terms with their own childlessness. With compassion and empathy – borne of personal experience – the authors offer no judgement, only support, as they reveal the full expression of all the complex and devastating feelings around this difficult and often taboo subject. An essential read for those trying to cope with the grief and loss which comes from childlessness.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT)
- Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life (Matthew McKay, Martha Davis & Patrick Fanning) – the Fourth edition of this well-researched book offers the most up-to-date and proven techniques for using CBT to help with mood disorders, all forms of anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, procrastination and many other problems. If you are battling any of these issues then this will offer enormous help, comfort and hope. It is a comprehensive self-help book in this area and is an invaluable guide to managing difficult thoughts and feelings. (FULL REVIEW: Do you struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings? ‘Thoughts and Feelings’ by McKay, Davis & Fanning: Recommended Book.)
- Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David Burns) – in this informative and ground-breaking book, Burns uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help people with depression observe, target and change any self-defeating thoughts that they may have. He also includes a useful guide to the many medications which are used to control mood, and he outlines some of their effects. This best-seller, originally published in 1980, brought CBT into the mainstream and it remains an important book in the fight against depression. It is helpful for sufferers, family and friends.
- Depressive Illness – The Curse of the Strong (Tim Cantopher) – now in its 3rd edition, there is a great deal of wisdom, help and understanding in this book for suffers and carers alike. Please note, though, that it has a narrow focus – stress-related depression – and some of the author’s ‘facts’ about depression are currently just persuasive theories. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book from a psychiatrist who has a wealth of expertise in treating depressive illness.
- The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence (Gavin de Becker) – an exceptional book which encourages us to trust our gut instinct when we could be under physical threat. Sometimes fear is there for a good reason and we need to listen to it. (FULL REVIEW: Do you value your intuition? ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin de Becker – Recommended Book.)
- Choosing Happiness (Stephanie Dowrick and Catherine Greer) – an uplifting book dedicated to showing us that we can ‘choose’ to be happy. There are many small topics which make it easy to dip into and it is full of support, warmth and wisdom as all Dowrick’s books are.
- The Hoarder In You: How To Live A Happier, Healthier Uncluttered Life (Robin Zasio) – offers excellent self-help to anyone who has a difficult relationship with their possessions. Hoarders struggle with three main things: difficulty letting things go, anxiety when parting with things and continual accumulation of possessions. An expert therapist in her field, Dr Robin Zasio, offers compassion and numerous strategies to help the hoarder and their family cope with this debilitating anxiety condition.
- Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl) – compelling personal and psychological reflections of Psychiatrist Victor Frankl on his experiences in a concentration camp. His insights: that we all have the freedom to choose how we react to events in our own life and we also all have the capacity to give our life its own meaning – even in the worst of circumstances. Essential reading.
- The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness (Dr Steve Peters) – this groundbreaking mind management model has helped elite sports stars to realise their full potential. It is not just for elite athletes, though. If you have problems with self-worth, self-sabotage and struggle to manage your mind, then using the techniques described by Psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters could make a huge difference to your life. (FULL REVIEW: The Mind Management behind GB’s Olympic Cycling Team: ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Dr Steve Peters – Recommended Book.)
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
- Brain Lock (Jeffrey Schwartz) – still one of the best books that is available on this distressing condition. It details how OCD can be understood and battled with: both as sufferers and carers. Schwartz’ ‘Four Steps’ approach is recommended on the UK’s OCD national charity website: http://www.ocduk.org/2/foursteps.htm (For my self-help article discussing the Four Step Method and managing OCD, please go to: Harley Therapy.)
- Overcoming Perfectionism (Shafran, Egan & Wade) – distinguishing between unhealthy perfectionism and positive high standards, this book is packed full of self-help strategies to help tackle damaging perfectionism. ‘Overcoming Perfectionism’ does not mean a lowering of standards but focuses on ensuring accurate thinking and adjusting our behaviour as we take these insights on board.
- On Becoming A Person (Carl Rogers) – psychologist Carl Rogers revolutionised counselling in the 1940s and 1950s when he developed his ‘person-centred’ approach to counselling. In On Becoming A Person and Client Centred Therapy, he proposed that the client has all the tools he/she needs to solve their own problems. In contrast to the, then, highly valued and emotionally intense psychoanalytic tradition, the person-centred counsellor was an attentive and non-judgemental listener who mirrored back the client’s words and thoughts. In offering this ‘unconditional positive regard,’ connecting genuinely with the client, and demonstrating ongoing empathy – without offering active advice – the client was enabled to reach their own life-defining insights and so work out their own problems. It is a counselling theory which is still very much in operation today and highly valued in practice.
- Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play (Neil Fiore) – if you struggle with chronic and debilitating procrastination then try this book first. It helps make sense of your delaying tactics and offers techniques, such as the now famous ‘unschedule,’ for dealing with this self-defeating behaviour pattern which can stop you achieving your full potential. Fiore is a gifted communicator as an author and in his role as an inspirational speaker – http://www.neilfiore.com
- Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It (Jane B. Lenora & M. Burka Yuen) – this is a fascinating look at procrastination from a psychoanalytic perspective. The link between perfectionism and procrastination is well explored and this book also includes some techniques for overcoming procrastination. The authors are both ‘recovering perfectionists’ so bring great understanding to the topic. If Fiore doesn’t quite hit the spot and you need to know more about the roots of your behaviour then this offers valuable insight.
- Loving Him Without Losing You: Seven Empowering Strategies for Better Relationships (Beverly Engel) – essential reading for all women in any kind of relationship. Especially good for those who feel they lose their own identity in relationships. The seven strategies help women to understand and change this damaging dynamic.
- Overcoming Low Self-Esteem (Melanie Fennell) – an excellent, practical and compassionate book on how to raise your self-esteem. Dr Fennell, a well-known expert in this area, explores the origins of low self-esteem and then offers exercises, using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to help change any damaging thinking patterns which could be affecting your self-esteem.
- Out Of The Shadows (Patrick Carnes) – as he tackles this taboo subject, Carnes, a renowned expert in this field, offers a starting point for understanding sex addiction. Reading this book will enable you to identify if these problems apply to you, to a friend, or a loved one. It is one of the best books currently available on this complex problem and it will also be helpful for those embarking on the potentially long and difficult road to recovery.
- The Sex Addiction Workbook (Sbraga & O’Donohue) – this unique workbook, written by two leading psychologists, helps sex addicts confront their behaviour and change their lives. It uses proven strategies – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – and approaches this difficult topic in a non-judgemental way with compassion and understanding. While this book is an excellent ‘stand-alone’ self-help book, it would be particularly useful to work through it alongside some form of therapy.
- The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (Davis, Eshelman and McKay) – now in its 6th edition and its longevity and high sales are a testament to its usefulness. Still the most all-encompassing and helpful guide to managing your stress.
- The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery and Growth (Glen Schiraldi) – an invaluable resource for those with post traumatic stress disorder. Schiraldi writes with warmth and understanding while offering practical assistance for dealing with your PTSD.
TIME MANAGEMENT & PRODUCTIVITY
- Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen) – this highly recommended bestseller focuses on mastering a five-stage method for managing tasks and jobs: collecting, processing, organising, reviewing and doing. It stands the test of time and is inspiring, practical and effective if you need to increase your productivity and avoid procrastination and perfectionism. (FULL REVIEW: Need to be more productive? ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen – Recommended Book.)
- Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (Brian Tracy) – although listed as a ‘stop procrastinating’ guide it is essentially a good book on motivation and time management. If you like the language of goals and success, especially in a business setting, then this will be useful to you. Tracy is a hugely popular motivational speaker and writer in the US and, if you take to this style of motivation, his words are inspiring – http://www.briantracy.com
TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS (TA)
- I’m OK – You’re OK (Thomas Harris) – Transactional Analysis (TA) is a useful psychotherapeutic model which describes the Parent, Adult and Child within us all. TA was originally developed by Eric Berne and his book of 1964 remains a classic: Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. Thomas Harris was a friend of Berne and the book, I’m OK – You’re OK, further popularised TA. For the uninitiated it remains the most understandable, approachable and accessible exploration of Transactional Analysis. Harris refers to some of the games people play – games which are defensive, avoid intimacy and give individuals a payoff, which all demonstrate childlike or parental behaviour. The goal of TA is to become an “emancipated adult.” TA offers a revealing explanation of how we behave in relationships and many have found it life-changing when looking at their own lives through this model. The divergence between Berne and Harris is at the heart of the book title. For an updated book on Transactional Analysis I would recommend: TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis (Ian Stewart & Vann Joins.)