Biased Book Reviews
I am not a professional book reviewer (if that is a thing at all). Bear in mind that for a book to enthrall me it takes very much — because the kind of perfection I expect from myself obviously intensifies when it comes to expectations I have of people who actually have the brawn to get published! Additionally, my attention span is about as long as the the tread on the average stair (which is 10 inches, if you must know!), so take everything with a grain, er, a whole handful of salt.
While I do not necessarily endorse the explicit and graphic descriptions in this book I'd give a AO rating, this account has so many lessons.
It gave such a refreshing view of the brutal process that is therapy, with such great insight and lessons deftly woven in as we watch the author learn secure attachment. (While it is about group therapy specifically, I found the content to be relevant for individual therapy too.)
I gained a lot from this book — and immensely enjoyed the read too!
Journey Through Trauma
Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD
This book shifted my thinking in the way it so clearly and poetically explains the process of healing from repeated trauma. Through this book I got to reframe those times in therapy that feel like major setbacks, or like the work plateaus, or like we keep going in circles about the same topics, as normal, and expected, parts of the journey.
It also gave me insight into the times of therapy when I feel like I have no control on where it is going and feel so out of sorts and just tired or hazy; it was so clearly explained as a step in the process, and it helped me a lot in knowing that these things are signs of therapy progressing and not signs that it's time to just throw in the towel.
What My Bones Know
A well-written and spirited memoir about healing from Complex PTSD. It's interesting — and a learning experience — to join the author on her journey as she discovers what it is that ails her and the various healing paths she took to fulfilling life.
Dibs in Search of Self
Virginia M. Axline
This child therapy classic is a brilliant read. It takes the reader into the world of a little boy, Dibs, who was completely shut down and allows them to witness as his sense of self emerges just by having a therapist being his witness and present with him in a safe therapeutic space.
It's an easy read, and a truly thought-provoking one.
Out of the Woods
This is a different type of reading experience, since one man's journey out of depression and panic attacks is depicted with beautiful illustrations. While the information presented isn't necessarily new, the format, and the personal narrative, is touching and validating.
This was a book, that while very heavy, I was not able to put down. Shame, especially the shame that controls entire therapy sessions, is exquisitely explored through the author's own therapy journey. It was a heavy read, as we read about her working through a lot of stuff in these chapters. But it is chock full of brilliant nuggets of description; she puts into words what I had not been able to put a finger on.
This book started out as a radio series — in which actors played the parts of patients in the author's office to discuss issues for which the therapist did not have any preparation — to portray to listeners what goes on in therapy.
So while it's missing that "real patient" factor, there's much to glean in this about how therapy works and allows for a mindset shift, in that we follow actual "sessions" verbatim (which also makes the read quite boring), with added explanations here and there.
I found some parts very insightful, to see certain dynamics in action (it portrayed "binary thinking" with a clarity I have not experienced before), and to see how the therapist chooses what to address and in which manner.
A Shining Affliction
Annie G. Rogers
This book is a literary masterpiece and so moving. Recommended to me by Emunah Harrel (thank you!) this was one worthwhile, heartwarming read. The author, a therapist, brings us straight into the mind of a six-year-old child who'd been abandoned and portrays in vivid, touching detail the brilliant therapeutic work they do together.
Alongside her works as a therapist, it also explores the author's experience with mental illness, and her own therapists, those who harmed and those who healed.
Emotional Neglect and the Adult in Therapy
Kathrin A. Stauffer
I was blown away by this book.
The truly amazing combination it presents is its exclusive focus on emotional neglect and also the specific aspect of how the issues play out in therapy.
(While the book is geared to therapists, I think any client who wants to understand what makes them act the way they do in therapy stands much to gain from it.)
Unlike many other books, which explain emotional neglect alongside abuse, the author has a direct and specific focus on what she calls "ignored children." It validates the lack and the consequential issues in a very real and targeted way.
There's something so comforting in reading about this as a described experience. These things we do (and perhaps even more importantly, don't do) are so for a reason. It also explores things from both a developmental and neuroscienctifical perspective, and I just found so much that resonated in all aspects.
The shame borne from this "ignored" experience — the very shame that makes therapy so shameful and so slow — is explored on many levels too.
And while this is not a self-help book, and the guidance for therapists are not necessarily of much interest for a client (as well as some of the interventions described), it was very valuable for me to read it.
Irvin D. Yalom
Yalom is an unusally gifted writer, storyteller and therapist, and these accounts had me entranced from start to finish. In his startling honesty, he gave me a raw glimpse into what it means to sit on the other side of the couch; how therapists are humans and also are really invested in their work. However I was also left feeling uneasy sitting on the chair and wondering if my therapist is having all these negative thoughts about me that Yalom has about his clients. Granted, he works through it, but his unabashed negative countertransference left me feeling exposed.
The writing is very rich, and gives an unbelievable glimpse into how severe depression manifests itself.
I found the book to be way more morbid and intense than my experience (thank G-d!), so I can't say it really resonated, but there were some profound lines that I savored in this well-written account.
This comic-style depiction of a fictitious therapy client's progress over the course of therapy is a very light (and short) read, and yet it "packs a punch," like one reviewer states on the back of the book.
The information, while not necessarily new, truly gives a comprehensive basic picture of what happens in therapy, and the way it's presented in little tidbits is refreshing and thought-provoking.
And though I have some complaints about how realistic the progression of the therapy pictured is, and have some bones to pick with the fictitious therapist, I found the book as a whole enjoyable to move through.
The Emotionally Absent Mother
Jasmin Lee Cori
A very comprehensive guide for emotional neglect and/or abuse. This author really "gets it," and covers the entire breadth and depth of the topic.
I found so many of my own descriptions and feelings spelled out right there in the book, and it was extremely validating to read about a "hole" and an "unanchored feeling" and see it's not just a figment of my imagination, and also to understand exactly how they came about. (I did skip some chapters on the basics, which I've already read up on, as well as other parts that I'm not ready for.)
I must admit I enjoyed this book. It was entertaining, refreshing, and even normalized severe mental health issues.
But it's definitely not in my "healing" category; it didn't give me a good feeling as I sniffed a lack of respect toward clients and this sacred, painful process that is therapy. The author has a cognitive "short-term" approach to therapy, which I felt by his own admission rules out both the trauma and relationship aspect of the work.
Mindfulness — A Jewish Approach
Jonathan Feiner, PhD
This book was a game changer for me. It truly takes mindfulness (which I'd feared was a Buddhist-only concept and therefore had some discomfort with it) and presents it through a Torah lens. The author quotes from great scholars throughout Jewish history, and sources the info from the Torah in a very relatable and interesting manner. The practical applications are also great. It's the type of book I should really have on my nightstand and refer back to.
Dr. Edith Eger
This is priceless, so chock full of lessons for healing and lessons for life; I feel too small and word-poor to review it. I just wanted to say that it's a must-read for any growing human being. From a "therapy" perspective, my main takeaway was that one has just got to forgive oneself for choices they made at a time they didn't know or weren't able to do better, because that's the first, as well as ultimate, step in healing.
Guest Review! The Gift
Dr. Edith Eger
By: Malki Grunwald
An amazing follow-up to Dr. Eger's life-changing book, The Choice, The Gift is more practical, less of a story; a guide on how to maximize all those amazing lessons to be gleaned from The Choice. I was apprehensive about reading it at first, because I don't like having people tell me what to do! However, I learned a tremendous amount on stepping out of victimhood, allowing myself to feel my emotions, and much more. The combo of these two books have really impacted my life in a huge way!
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving
This is a foundational book for understanding developmental (relational) trauma. It helped me really understand how not getting what is so crucial as a child set the stage for the difficulties I face. Especially helpful was how the author highlights the silent damage done by emotional neglect, and the tools and the reading helped mitigate my tendency to minimize my adverse experiences. I returned to this book a few months after reading it once, and I love that the sections can be read independently, so I can read just one chapter to tap into a specific part.
Richard O'Connor PhD
This book was so super validating. The author gets depression. He gets how it feels and it helped me accept the limitations depression puts on me, instead of being harsh on myself for it. He really helped me face depression for what it is — a disease beyond my control that affects me every day of my life. I wish I would have found this book sooner. I didn't read the practical parts thoroughly, but still plan to go back there when I'm ready.
How Does That Make You Feel
If you're looking to get a backstage view of therapy, this might still your curiosity a bit. I enjoyed the author's lead-in a lot. When it came to various stories, there were some I didn't go for, some that I skimmed but didn't finish, and then there were those that were a very rewarding read. So I'd recommend that you pick and choose your way around this one.
The Highly Sensitive Person
Elaine N. Aron, PhD
By: Leah Schiffer
I am not being melodramatic (though as an HSP, I admit I sometimes am) when I say that this book changed my life.
Though it is not the most engaging book, you will "swallow this whole" if you find that it talks about you. Y And just in case you think it is a load of hogwash, it is, in fact, based on science, intense research; hundreds of interviews; and also Aron's experience with her many clients and her own high sensitivity.
If you are an HSP, the deep comfort and validation you will find in this book is difficult to put into words.
Starting by finally disproving your long-held beliefs about your sanity; you will then discover the many gifts that come along with being an HSP, and learn how to survive and thrive in the overwhelming world we live in.
You will feel as if the author is holding your hand as she gently guides you through every aspect of life you might encounter as a highly sensitive person, including targeted advice on how to reframe your childhood in light of your trait, and how to approach healing and self-actualization. I
Deborah A. Lott
I loved the premise of this book, namely: Why do therapists loom so significant in clients' minds? But really, the premise of the book spoke to me more than its actual content. A lot of it was explored through people who had super-intense, unrealistic feelings for their therapists, and I would have loved it to be explored on a more "normal" level. That being said, I found some parts helpful in understanding that this relationship is part symbolic, part real and also validated how hard what the author calls "unrequited love" is for clients. Additionally, the book is over 20 years old, so the read is less light than the average contemporary book. In the same vein, the average therapist today is probably a little less distant than the therapists the vignettes depict.
Guest Review! Furiously Happy
By: Malki Grunwald
I purchased this book on a whim, on a day that I was feeling particularly dark and depressed. Overall, a nut job created by a professional nut. However, it's light and very easy to read, and has given me perspective on how I don't need to confine my life to my mental health (or severe lack). Oh, and to stop taking myself so darn seriously, except if it's for something seriously fun or wacky. I found that the whole book was worthwhile to read for those few brutally honest, vulnerable snippets that Jenny shares about the truly difficult days in her life.
Running on Empty
Jonice Webb, PhD
This was in my cart for a while until I was ready to admit that my childhood was a case of emotional neglect — and that it's something terrible enough to affect me heavily. But once I was ready, this was a very therapeutic, insightful read. Very (very) light reading (I ended up skipping most of the vignettes), the info, in very simple words, just cuts to the chase of a childhood of invisibility and how it makes that silent yet deadly impact on a person.
I would have loved if the author would branch out to a more broad classification of mothers who inflict this kind of damage — meaning to write about those who just didn't know better or were not mothered themselves — but overall, this was a learning experience and so validating.
What Happened to You
Bruce D. Perry, MD PhD, and Oprah Winfrey
This is a great book for understanding how childhood adversity shapes a person. Here we get both the emotional (Oprah) and neurological (Dr. Perry) aspects addressed in such a readable way. I found the charts seriously awesome; they gave me a graphic understanding how a lack of safety in childhood manifests physically in the body until it is not worked through. My anxiety, hypervigilance, tension... I got a lot of clarity in these pages. And do you know what else? This book is so respectful of both "perpetrators" and "victims" of generational trauma, viewing it all through a lens of "What happened to you" that shaped you into the person you are without pointing fingers at "wrongdoing." I even read the book twice! And that says a ton...
It's Not Always Depression
Hilary Jacobs Hendel
I read this book at the very beginning of my therapy journey; at a time when I was still emotionally clueless and had no idea how to connect sensations and reactions to emotions. As such it gave me a very good basic introduction to core emotions, defenses and how we inhibit emotions. It also gave me excellent background about depression being a result of suppressed emotions. The author describes therapy sessions word for word, so it also gave me a glimpse into the therapy room. That being said, I couldn't practically apply it to help me decode emotions. That would take a therapist — one that I feel has a much broader arsenal of tools with which to help me. Once I learned about so much more, I found the approach in this book to be limiting.
Frank G. Anderson, MD
This book gives a great background to IFS and explained the process so clearly with a very readable mix of info and vignettes. I was having some really obstinate resistance toward the IFS work in therapy, and reading the entire process spelled out so clearly and seeing how much sense it makes helped me a lot with that.
(Personally, I picked up a bit of distance the author keeps his clients at, which unsettled me at first and made me fear that perhaps IFS doesn't have a place for the more human approach I was hoping for. It was really interesting to later come across a recording of a Q and A with Richard Schwartz, the IFS founder, where this issue came up and Schwartz maintained that the relationship is an important factor to him. So that put me at ease!)
The Examined Life
For those as curious about psychotherapy and therapists as I am, this book gave a real quality inside look. At the beginning I found some of the stories to end before I got to the meat, but as the book progressed, I was more and more moved by the stories, and some really spoke to me. I was also touched by the respect the author has for every client and every human being. It was good for me to read from a therapist with such an attitude. :) The writing is brilliant and yet so smoothly readable. It is both a literary treat as well as a truly insightful glimpse into the therapeutic process and relationship.
The Client Who Changed Me
Jeffrey A. Kotler and Jon Carlson
This was a great read on the topic of therapy; I'm always curious to hear about it from the other side of the couch. It gives a heartwarming glimpse of therapists who allowed their clients to impact them and their work. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, but overall it was a very worthwhile read.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Duh, I know I'm so very cliche by starting with this book, but honestly, it was the first behind-the-scenes therapy book I read back when it was still hot off the press. The book was enlightening and normalized therapy for me a ton — imagine that, a therapist can struggle with the same issues I do, with their therapist! — and yet, the language was a little too crude for my liking. Some parts were downright hilarious, others made me want to skip entire chunks (which I did). Overall it gave me a lot of insight into the therapy process.
Give Us Your Feedback
What Did You Think?