What was the name of that book again?

I rarely assign reading material as homework for my therapy clients, but sometimes I might mention a book if it seems relevant to the topic at hand, and if the person strikes me as a reader. But then at the end of the session the client might say, "What was the name of that book again?" And then I'll be scrambling to write down the title and the author. Well, I finally decided to start a list that I could refer people to.

Make no mistake, these books are my personal favorites. They are the books I find myself recommending again and again. And although all of them deal with psychological life (no novels, for instance), not all of them are about emotional problems or syndromes per se. Indeed several of them are more representative "positive" psychology.

They are in no particular order.

Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I first read this book in graduate school, not as part of any coursework but as extracurricular reading. It's fair to say this book had a profound influence on my life because it shaped my thinking about what a good life is, or could be. This book is about the psychology of what means–-or could mean–-to engage deeply with your life. When we are in flow, we lost track of time. We are deeply absorbed. We forget about our worries, our past, indeed our selves. Although the basis of this book grows out of Cziksentmihalyi's longstanding research, it's beautifully written. I cannot recommend it enough.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Ordinarily time management books are not the kind of book I go for. Allen's book is system for how to manage your time, but I think it's more than it. What he's really talking about is the psychology of your working memory and your attentional processes. We all have too much to do, but we can use external supports—systems—to help us manage. This book is pithy. (I like pithy.)

Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

Gottman's longitudinal research has altered the way most therapists do couple therapy. He and his team have studied real couples over time, in their "couple lab," and they've learned a great about what works in marriage want what doest. In this book you'll learn how to have better disagreements, and you'll learn the destructive patterns to avoid if you want keep your marriage healthy and happy. When working with couples, I'll often recommend this book as a supplement to our work together.

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

A recent book with up-to-date information on anxiety and it's disorders. But what makes this book unique, and frankly interesting to read, is that it is also part memoir. The author tells you about his own struggles with anxiety disorders, which are considerable, especially when you learn that he is an otherwise high-functioning editor at a major magazine.

Don’t Panic by Reid Wilson

I work with people who struggle with panic attacks just about every week of my career. I am very familiar with this problem. I always recommend this book to panic sufferers because more information–-know what it is, how it works, what helps it and what makes it worse–-are central to the treatment of it. If I had to pick out one book on panic attacks, it would be this one. Everything you need to know about panic attacks in one book.

Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman

You can find a ton of books on happiness right now because it's a popular topic. This is largely thanks to Seligman, who, during his stint as president of the American Psychological Associate chose to focus on what was right about people, not just about what was wrong with them. Now there are scores of books on so-called "positive psychology," but for my money is books are still some of the best. The book that preceded this one,
Authentic Happiness, is also a very good read.

Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Did you know "grit"–-persistence with passion–-turns out to be a better predictor of success than talent? That's what this book is about. It's based on Duckworth award-winning research. Sound interesting?

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel and Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch

I put these two books together because they're both about the same topic: sex. No pictures, no advice on sexual positions, just intelligent talk about sex and the issues that can complicate it.

Passion and Reason by Richard Lazarus and Bernice Lazarus

This is about human emotion. If you've ever wanted to know more about this important aspect your life, this books explains emotions in a way that makes sense. What are they? What function to they serve? What actions stem from them? You might think about a book like this would be loaded with jargon, but it isn't. It's simply an interesting read.

Quiet by Susan Cain.

This book made quite a splash on the bestseller lists, and for good reason. It's a very engaging read about the power of introversion as a human personality trait. If you are an introvert–-or if you want to understand one–-read this book. It's good.

Reinventing Your Life by Jeffery Young and Janet Klosko.

Okay, I admit, the title of this book is perhaps a bit schlocky. But the book is based the "schema" approach to therapy. For instance, if a person feels that deep down they are not "good enough" they may have an underlying schema–-sort of a theory of themselves–-as being a failure, or being defective in some way. This belief––which involves belief, emotion, memory–-may come to be the root cause of depressive symptoms. In any case, they authors lay out the various schema using the notion of life patterns. I use schema therapy a lot in my practice, and recommend the book often as a supplement to treatment.

Undoing Depression by Richard O'Conner. There are scores of good books on depression, but this one is often overlooked. I like it primarily because the author passes on the benefit of his wisdom about how to cope with depression.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

This books is about the daily routines of famous people through out the ages, and frankly, I loved it. I loved reading about the ways in which creative people, be they writers, visual artists, composers, or scientists, structured their lives to get work done. Although the entries for each person are short, you get feel for that person because Mason does such a good job of showing us their quirks and personalities. If you think you have some unusual habits, wait until you read about some of zanny things famous people did on their road to greatness.

Now, Discover Your Strengths Markus Buckingham and Donald Clifton.

Many of us don't know what are strengths are, or if we do we have only vague language about how to describe them. The Gallop poll people have done research on strengths and this book provides a nifty summary of the patterns they identified. It may not be the only way to think about your strengths, but it's a great place to start, and knowing them may just help you fine tune your life so that you are using them more often.

Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck and How to find Work You Love by Laurence Boldt.

I've put these two books together because they're both aimed at helping people finding their vocation. The former, by Martha Beck, is both practical and funny, and the latter is a pithy little gem (not to be confused with Boldt's longer book,
Zen and the Art of Making a Living, which is also helpful though much longer).

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