The mention of "mental health" is not unusual these days. In fact, more and more people are talking about the importance of taking care of both their physical AND mental well being. We follow Instagram or TikTok therapists.
People take "mental health days" from work.
Celebrities and athletes are more open about working with a counselor.
While the concept of mental health might be talked about more regularly, people often struggle to define the things that contribute the foundations of positive mental health. To make it simple let's identify three (although there is more that could be included) things that are important to understand when we think about the quality of someone's mental health; trauma, boundaries, and self-compassion. Most people that come into my office struggle with at least one of these on some levels. I've included my favorite recommendations for people interested in improving their foundational knowledge about what contributes to our mental health by continuing to educated themselves outside of the therapy office. Whether it's with the intention of understanding yourself better or those around you, these books are both educational and engaging so that you are able to take what you learn and implement it in real life.
What Happened to You? by Oprah Winfrey & Dr. Bruce Perry, MD., PhD.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, though I'm not sure why since I am a fan of Oprah. I am always looking for new and different ways to explain the impacts of trauma to people in plain language (I don't believe in psychobabble). Trauma impacts us all. Having a basic level of understanding about it is, in my opinion, crucial for really understanding human behavior and connecting with those around you. What Happened to You? stresses the importance of asking how someone's past is influencing their present. How has what they've been through conditioned them to think and act the way that they do today? Through multiple, well thought out examples, Oprah and Dr. Perry talk about different types of trauma, different presentations of trauma, and what our brain and body is doing during and after a trauma occurs in language and charts that are easy to understand and follow. The focus of this book is to steer us away from judgement that inherently come with saying "what is wrong with you" and instead focuses on extending compassion by asking, "What happened to you?"
**Please take note that this book is written in a conversational way between Dr. Perry and Oprah. If that would be bothersome for you, check out the audiobook!
Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
This book was a quick and easy read full of valuable information about what a boundary is, why boundaries matter, the different types of boundaries we need in life, and signs that we might be in need of boundaries. I personally loved how this book was written in more of a list style format where I could easily visualize all of the information about a topic in a clear way. I'm not sure that I could say it in a more concise or perfect way than the author did so I will quote her directly, "People don't know what you want. It's you're job to make it clear. Clarity saves relationships" (Glover Tawwab, XVII). This is a great place to start if you struggle with setting boundaries yourself or struggle to understand what people mean when they say they have or need to set a boundary with you. Remember, we only set boundaries for things we care about.
Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
This book was recommended by a professor I had in my undergrad. I have found time and time again in my work with people that the power of compassionate self-talk is SEVERELY underestimated. When I ask people how they feel about someone in their life who hurt them or made a mistake, it is most common that people demonstrate compassion for the other person. On the flip side when they make a mistake and I ask them how they feel about themselves, I'm often met with critical and harsh judgements about themselves and their actions. People tend to talk to themselves in a way they would never consider talking to another person, simply because no one is there to hear what they are saying aside from themselves. By explaining the importance of self-compassion and defining it's key components, this topic that seems so ambiguous becomes something that we can realistically work to address. This book offers great exercises for those serious about improving their self-compassion. I read this book in graduate school and noticed the huge impact it had on my overall life. This is one of my most highly recommended books!
Books ≠ Therapy
While no book is a replacement for personalized therapeutic care and the relationship you build with a therapist, it's not always realistic to fit therapy into our regular schedule for a variety of reasons. Books can help us continue our self-exploration outside of the therapy office. By introducing new ideas and ways of understanding the world, we are continuing to gather insight about ourselves so that if/when therapy does become an option, we have some idea for where we would like to get to. Books are just one tools for people.
If you are interested in more books that you would find on my shelf, head over to our resources tab and check out other recommended reads! I'm curious what books about personal growth or self-care you recommend.