Best Therapy Books
Books are a great way to learn from an absent teacher. Though there are an abundance of books intended for therapists, the best books for beginning therapists are those which help to make their clients feel better.
Foundational knowledge about the human condition and a broad view of the techniques which can alleviate suffering go hand-in-hand, which means that books for therapists in training are often great reads for lay people too. In this article, we’ll review ten of the best therapy books for therapists in training.
These books have been widely lauded as essential pickups for novice therapists, and more experienced therapists will probably glean a few insights if they take a look as well.
Looking for more ongoing education? Check out our list of top psychology magazines and journals for therapists.
“Meditation is not just something you do on a cushion or chair. Anything you do is an occasion to engage yourself mindfully in the present moment. When you engage mindfulness meditation in the present moment, it makes everything you do in your daily life sacred and full of meaning, even washing the dishes or turning on an electric light.”
Andrew Weiss’ approach to learning basic mindfulness techniques is a critical read for any new therapist who wants to stay on the cutting edge of emotional awareness and cognitive clarity as they relate to mental health.
Weiss’ book offers a series of mindfulness exercises which can help the patients of new therapists to identify their emotions, control their emotions, and separate the sensations of their body from excitation in their minds.
Because so many people are becoming involved with mindfulness as a result of its fad-status, new therapists will be better equipped to understand what clients are looking for after they read this book. Importantly, the book will also explain what mindfulness can’t do, which will be helpful in dispelling any illusions that new therapists or clients may have.
“Shyness and social anxiety are universal.”
Martin Antony and Richard Swinson are two legendary therapists as a result of years of clinical practice and authorship of workbooks like this book. Shyness and social anxiety may appear to be common obstacles for patients of new therapists, but the reason that this book is one of the best books for beginning therapists is that it provides fruitful examples.
These examples will help new therapists to understand the degree to which shyness and social anxiety can be inhibiting from the outside as well as from the inside.
With this book, new therapists might be able to identify instances when a little bit more prodding could help a patient overcome one of their challenges — and when it’s best to leave things alone.
Most of all, the book describes the behaviors of shy clients so that the therapist can understand them from afar while also understanding the internal forces which cause the behaviors.
“Change the viewing, map problem and goals, connect with internal and external resources, and change the doing.”
Bill O’Hanlon and Sandy Beadle teamed up to produce this book so that new therapists would have a handbook of easy to learn and easy to execute solutions for their clients. The majority of these solutions are probably things new therapists have heard of, like reframing, setting goals, and recruiting social support. Nonetheless, this book offers a no-nonsense example of executing each solution and then spells it out in detail immediately afterward.
Notably, the solutions proposed by this book are intended to be modified rather than used as-is, so new therapists will find that they’ll be flipping through the pages long after they’ve become more experienced. Novice therapists will also find that the book offers an abundance of tools, leaving the implementation of those tools up to their discretion. Building this discretion is an important skill for any group of therapeutic techniques, and new therapists will be able to make use of the practice.
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
Viktor Frankl’s account of life in Auschwitz and afterward is one of the great stories in existential therapy. This isn’t a book for therapists who are looking for strategies to implement in their upcoming sessions.
It’s a book which delves into the human condition, explores the importance of existential values, and describes how one man — Frankl — survived that which many did not. In short, new therapists will find that this book gets their deepest emotional skills working hard, trying to identify what values would carry them through the darkest of times.
In particular, Frankl’s description of how he managed to continue onward in life after losing his family in the Holocaust is highly moving, and can help new therapists to see hope for their clients where there might otherwise appear to be none at all. Rather than simply coping with loss, Frankl teaches the new therapist how to aspire to live rather than to try to avoid death.
“I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus.”
Sylvia Plath’s first-person account of a slow descent into insanity is critical for therapists to read because it contains detailed descriptions of the thought patterns that can occur when people are in serious distress.
Throughout the course of the book, Plath describes the slow decline of Esther Greenwood, a 20-something woman in New York City who is wracked by mental illness and anxiety. Plath’s book is rarely an easy read, but it can teach therapists in training what it’s like to struggle publicly, which makes it invaluable.
Therapists in training will also appreciate Plath’s take on the female experience, which may be helpful to inform their perspective. Overall, Plath seeks to instill the visceral sense of wellness (or, lack thereof), which is essential for therapists who may be of sound mental health most of the time.
Unlike other books for beginning therapists, Plath’s book is not suitable for using with clients directly. Nor does it provide any single actionable strategy. Instead, Plath’s book is excellent background material which new therapists can use to build a broader perspective.
“The question is, how can we bring intelligence to our emotions — and civility to our streets and caring to our communal life?”
Daniel Goleman’s 1997 introduction to emotional intelligence has stood the test of time regarding the centrality of emotional adeptness. All therapists should seek to foster emotional intelligence in the fashion that Goleman describes — but therapists who are new probably need to understand the areas to work on first.
Goleman’s book shines because it provides an easy to understand description of the construct of emotional intelligence which new therapists can use to improve their connection with their patients and also with themselves.
Importantly, Goleman’s book lays out several strategies which therapists can use with their clients to help them develop more emotional intelligence. While these methods won’t be suitable for everyone, most clients can benefit from tuning in to their emotional intelligence for the purpose of improving their relationships with others.
Many clients will also be amenable to Goleman’s emphasis on the importance of emotional intelligence in business. Having angles that can make clients more amenable to therapeutic avenues is invaluable for a therapist, which cements Goleman’s book as one of the best books for new therapists.
“As the complexities of compromise increase, each person becomes more and more individual in his quest for recognition, and it is this differentia which lend variety to social intercourse and which determine the individual’s destiny.”
Eric Berne’s take on the psychophysical nature of human interactions is conceptually deep and highly educational, making it a great book for new therapists. While many of Berne’s theories are closer to Freudian impressionism rather than empirically-proven hypotheses, the content is important for therapists to learn because it demonstrates the importance of belongingness.
Many people will go to great lengths to gain this belongingness — and it’s every therapist’s role to understand how to help them find it and how to guide them away from maladaptive situations.
It’s important for new therapists to read critically, however; Berne’s ideas are not necessarily ready for implementation, nor are they supported by modern investigations. Nonetheless, as one of the best books for therapists in training, Berne’s book serves as an excellent companion to a Freudian or Jungian educational module.
“Therapy does not focus on maintaining a stable, consistent environment, but rather aims to help the client become comfortable with change.”
As the pioneer of dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan has created a therapeutic doctrine intended for the highest-risk patients. Originally intended to treat patients at risk for suicide because of their borderline personality disorder, Linehan later found that DBT could be useful for patients with a wide variety of conduct and emotional disorders.
New therapists will find that Linehan’s DBT manual has a great collection of worksheets for clients and exercises that work equally well in an individual or group setting. Using Linehan’s methodology for mindfulness-based emotional awareness, new therapists can bring one of the most exciting therapeutic modalities into their offices — and help their clients regulate their feelings at the same time.
At the core of DBT is Linehan’s emphasis on giving the client a chance to collect themselves even when their emotional impulses are overwhelming them. This skill is an essential one to teach to clients — and an essential one for therapists to have mastered before the client is in the room. Importantly, Linehan’s manual is written for the therapist to use as a teaching tool rather than for a client to use on their own. As such, the manual is the perfect resource for new therapists.
“So much wanting. So much longing. And so much pain, so close to the surface, only minutes deep. Destiny pain. Existence pain. Pain that is always there, whirring continuously just beneath the membrane of life.”
Irvin Yalom’s tome of wisdom scraped from his years as a practicing psychotherapist are highly instructive for any therapist. Yalom describes four fundamental sources of existential pain, and offers readers with approaches for how to defuse that pain — essential lessons for a budding therapist.
The main message that new therapists need to hear, according to Yalom, is that the pains which cause psychopathology are fundamentally incapable of being remedied. Teaching clients to cope is the only way forward. This message is especially important for patients who are grieving.
Often, losses are irreparable, yet the job of the therapist is to help patients work around the void rather than help them find a new way of filling it. Yalom’s teachings are better for new therapists than for therapists with more experience because they provide a framework which can form a new therapist’s entire practice for the better.
“In 1955, two main forms of psychotherapy, both passive, then dominated the field: Freudian psychoanalysis, with its interminable listening to troubled people’s complaints and supposedly unraveling their unconscious “complexes” and purportedly healing them of childhood traumas; and Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy, which forbade therapists from using any active-directive techniques to show clients what really troubled them or what to do about it.”
Albert Ellis’ groundbreaking investigation into rational-emotive behavioral therapy as described in this book would eventually become the basis for currently dominant therapy modes like cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Ellis sought to break down the barrier between instinct, emotionality, and cognitive restraint which prevented people from blindly exercising both. Therapists in training will find that this book changes their perspective on the purpose of rationality on the part of the therapist. Ellis advocates consciously switching between detached cognition and unbridled emotiveness when interacting with clients, a pair of skills which all therapists could stand to comprehend and master.
Gaining a foundational knowledge base when starting your career as a therapist is essential. If you’re ready to start your first practice, check out how TheraNest can make billing, scheduling, and client interaction a breeze.
Have more time to listen than read? Check out our top recommendations for therapy podcasts here.