10 Books Every Therapist Should Read

Books are one of the best ways to connect with practitioners, researchers, and others who have knowledge and insight to help you as you work with clients. We’re avid readers ourselves, and we’ve found several books to be especially beneficial. In this list, you won’t find anything too clinical. What you will find are books that examine a wide range of topics deeply connected to human development, growth, and self-realization. Whether you’re a new therapist or one who’s been practicing for decades, you’ll likely find yourself opening up a new browser tab at some point as you’re reading to add a new title or two to your Amazon or Barnes and Noble shopping cart.

The Body Keeps the Score — Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

This classic, written by one of the leading researchers in the area of post-traumatic stress, lays out in simple terms how traumatic life experiences fundamentally change the workings of the brain and the body. van der Kolk shares discoveries from his decades of clinical experience working with survivors of trauma. He also highlights a range of treatment options that tap into the brain’s amazing ability to rewire itself. This book offers actionable steps that leave the reader with a belief that hope and healing are possible. 

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself — Kristen Neff, Ph.D.

Western society's connection of success and striving to self-worth has left many people with a scathingly-critical inner self. Many people operate on the belief that the only thing truly holding them together is the generous application of their inner cattle prod.  In this book, Neff makes a brilliantly counter-intuitive argument that self-criticism actually works against us, making positive changes more difficult and decreasing our motivation to make positive changes. Backed by a host of scientific research, she lays out the case for developing a more compassionate view towards ourselves and our failures. This deeply practical book is filled with exercises designed to soften the edges around how we view our own shortcomings. 

The Gifts of Imperfection — Brene Brown, Ph.D.

For most of us, Brene Brown is an author who doesn’t need an introduction. In our view, The Gifts of Imperfection is one of her most practical, helpful titles to date. In this book, Brown examines how our sense of fear and shame interferes with our ability to live a life filled with gratitude and compassion. Artfully weaving personal stories and compelling research, she argues that the key to authentic, more joyful living is found in embracing our imperfect lives just as they are.

Getting Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — Steven Hayes, Ph.D.

This book, written by one of the leading voices in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is an everyman’s guide to this form of treatment. Hayes covers the core tenants of ACT, including the acceptance of suffering, the importance of identifying a personal set of core values, and a commitment to translating them into daily practice. This practical book lays out an actionable framework for working with difficult emotions, living in the present, and acting in ways that align with what’s most important to one’s value system. 

A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor — John Berger

This book is a cornerstone work that documents the life of a British physician practicing in a small, struggling town in rural England in the 1960s. The rich narrative explores the relationships this doctor builds with those he treats and how he relates to himself. Compelling photography adds another layer of meaning to this intriguing book. As you read, you’ll find yourself examining the way you view both yourself and your career.

Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy — Irvin Yalom

Love’s Executioner is a personal and moving account of the hopes, fears, and desires of ten psychotherapy patients under the care of veteran existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom. In this book, Yalom explores the tension he feels between his natural human response to working with patients and his professional training as a clinician. As the book progresses, so do his patients as they wrestle with their presenting problems and move towards growth — or not. 

Leaving it at the Office, Second Edition: A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care — John Norcross, Ph.D. and Gary VandenBos, Ph.D.

Therapists often do a far better job of caring for others than they do caring for themselves. If that statement rings true for you, this book is a must-read. Featuring thirteen strategies for self-care, this work aims to help overcommitted therapists find a balance between dedication to professional excellence and the need to actively tend to their own personal growth and renewal.

A Path with Heart — Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.

Spiritual practices can be an important support for clients who value them. In A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield takes on some of the greatest challenges to developing a mindful spiritual practice in the modern age. Through an engaging blend of personal stories, ancient wisdom, and practical strategies, Kornfield gently leads readers to recognize and make space for the sacred in the midst of everyday life.

The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People — Judith Orloff, MD

Now more than ever, people are bombarded on all sides with upsetting images and information. For empaths, this non-stop stream of negativity can be overwhelming. In this book, Judith Orloff shares powerful strategies that empaths can use to cope with distress in more healthy, productive ways. The book also explores how to take full advantage of the empath’s unique powers of compassion, intuition, and creativity. 

10% Happier — Dan Harris

This entertaining book follows ABC News anchor Dan Harris’s journey to find relief from the tyrannical inner critic that nearly ruined his career. From an on-air panic attack to finding inner peace through mindfulness practice, you’ll join Dan on an adventure that’s deeply relatable to anyone seeking a better way to be in the world. 10% Happier is an eclectic mix of personal narrative, hard science, and masterful storytelling.

Summing Up

Getting into a good book, especially one that can empower your work, comes with plenty of benefits. It’s a great way to decompress and relax after a long week, and it can spur us to grow as individuals. The books we’ve shared here are sure to guide you to new levels of personal development that you can use to help yourself and others. 

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