10 Mental Health Books Therapists Read and Loved in 2020
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If you're looking for a must-read book, here's a list of insightful mental health books recommended by therapists.
Mental health books therapists love
This year has been difficult for millions of Americans, and the world in general. The raging Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent job loss, illness, and death that followed has rocked many nations. Making matters worse, people around the world watched as racial tension hit a climactic crescendo with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd.
As many are still processing and trying to make sense of our new normal, some have looked to books for support and insight on the mental health implications of our rapidly changing, and at times uncertain, world. Whether you’re looking for a good book on the psychology of happiness, the science behind self-esteem, or wanting to better understand the mental and emotional effects of racial trauma and the impact of anxiety on relationships, there’s a book out there that is right for you.
Here’s a list of mental health-related books that four therapists read and loved in 2020.
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
Feeling a bit down or interested in learning about the science behind happiness? Clinical psychologist Barbara Ford Shabazz, director of the psychology program at South University and founder of Intentional Activities recommends Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment written by Martin E.P. Seligman. Shabazz enjoyed the simplicity and “strength-based perspective” that Seligman provides in his book.
So, how does he suggest we get happy? By ditching our obsession with our weaknesses and embracing our strengths. Shabazz shares, “the book provides practical exercises and activities to help identify our strengths and how we can best use them.” (Here are the 10 keys to true happiness.)
Heartwork: The Path of Self-Compassion
Another important component of experiencing true happiness is feeling good about ourselves. Candice Williams, an athletic counselor at The Ohio State University’s athletics department, recommends Heartwork: The Path of Self-Compassion by Radhule Weininger, MD. Weininger provides readers with nine simple mindful practices to develop a greater level of self-compassion and overall love of self.
“The book offers a step by step relatable and engaging exploration of self-compassion that also improves our ability to demonstrate compassion onto others,” says Williams. (Here are self-care quotes to help you care for your mind and body.)
The Self-Love Workbook
Williams describes The Self-Love Workbook by Shainna Ali as “transformative” and “inspirational.” By providing functional tips and exercises the author describes how to move toward a place of greater and more authentic self-acceptance and appreciation. (Here are some ways to be nicer to yourself.)
Also highly recommended by Williams, Self-Esteem (4th ed.) is written by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning. According to Williams, it helps the reader to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy self-esteem and how to correct negative thoughts about ourselves that lower self-esteem and self-confidence. (Try these instant self-confidence boosters.)
With so many drastic changes that many of us are facing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with uncertainty. Williams says that Emotional Agility, written by Susan David, “gets at the heart of how becoming more emotionally flexible can help us to better cope in times of uncertainty and confusion.”
In simple terms, emotional agility refers to responding to the ups and downs of life through adaptation and behaving in ways that are reflective of our true values and not just the current circumstance. The book also focuses on making small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of expansion and growth. (Here’s what you need to know about toxic positivity.)
It’s OK That You’re Not OK
Grief is not a new phenomenon, but for many, this year has been grief-stricken. It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine is a heartfelt and “powerful” book that offers an insightful perspective about both the experience of grief and how to support others who have experienced tragedy.
Jessica Jackson, a licensed psychologist, and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Baylor College of Medicine says that the book “artfully” reshapes the understanding of grief from being a disease that requires immediate treatment to a natural part of the human condition that requires patience and care. (Therapists offer their tips for coping with Covid-19 grief.)
The Body Keeps the Score
Uncertainly and grief aren’t the only challenges that some people are currently facing. Licensed psychologist and food relationship strategist, Ebony Butler, highly recommends The Body Keeps the Score by Bassel Van der Kolk. Butler says the book uses both real-life experiences and science to provide an intuitive and informative explanation of how trauma reshapes the body and the brain. (This is what your brain looks like with PTSD.)
The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health
Speaking of trauma, discussion about racism and racial trauma have been an ongoing topic of concern in the country. The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health by Rheeda Walker, is a fan favorite that Butler commends for its in-depth examination of the psychological impact of various social factors such as health disparities, poverty, and racism on Black mental health. (Here’s how to find a Black therapist.)
My Grandmother’s Hands
Butler also highly recommends My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. Menakem examines how racism impacts the mind and body while introducing readers to an alternative view of how the country can extend beyond intergenerational racial divides that exist in America, which Butler, says makes this book one of her favorite reads. (Here are some tips from Black therapists for how to cope with anxiety from Covid-19 and racial trauma.)
Anxious in Love
With life’s current twists and turns, many are experiencing anxiety that could rear its ugly head in multiple areas of our lives—relationships included. Williams recommends Anxious in Love by Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum. Anxious in Love explores how chronic anxiety can impact our personal relationships and provides tangible steps on how to overcome reactions driven by anxiety that might prevent closeness in our personal relationships.
Next, read about the benefits of adult coloring books.
- Barbara Shabazz, PsyD, clinical psychologist and psychology program director, South University, Savannah, Georgia
- Candice Williams, LPC, athletic counselor at The Ohio State University, Athletics Department
- Ebony Butler, PhD, licensed psychologist and food relationship strategist
- Jessica Jackson, PhD, a licensed psychologist, and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral services, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston