Over the past 6 months, many clients have asked me for recommended books. I have decided to compile a book list that reflects the principles of the therapy I conduct, existential-cognitive therapy. By no means exhaustive, this is list is just a start. I plan to add to this list from time to time, and would be happy to get recommended books from readers in the comments.
I have decided to start with inspirational and existentially minded fiction:
1.Hoff, B. (1994). Tao of Pooh and Te of Piglet Boxed Set. Penguin Books.
Through brilliant and witty dialogue with the beloved Pooh-bear and his companions, the author of this smash bestseller explains with ease and aplomb that rather than being a distant and mysterious concept, Taoism is as near and practical to us as our morning breakfast bowl. Romp through the enchanting world of Winnie-the-Pooh while soaking up invaluable lessons on simplicity and natural living .
“It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffing slightly, “when you’re only a very small animal.” Yet Piglet — with his keen eye for every pitfall — is asked to be brave again and again. When it comes to problems or facing any Major Danger, one can always count on Piglet. Which brings us to the wisdom of the Taoist masters as revealed in the The Te of Piglet: The Virtue of the Small.(Hoff, 1994)
2. Coelho, P. (2006). The Alchemist. (A. R. Clarke, Trans.) (ANNIVERSARY EDITION.). HarperCollins.
PAULO COELHO‘S enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom points Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transformation power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts (Coelho, 2006)
3. Beckett, S. (1994). Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. (S. Beckett, Trans.). Grove Press.
Waiting for Godot was Samuel Beckett‘s first professionally produced play. It opened in Paris in 1953 at the tiny Left Bank Theatre de Babylone, and has since become a cornerstone of twentieth-century theater. The story line revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone or something named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree on a barren stretch of road, inhabiting a drama spun from their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, dreamscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as a somber summation of mankind’s inexhaustible search for meaning.(Beckett, 1994)
4. Kundera, M. (2009). The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel (Deluxe.). Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon, a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals–while her other lover, earnest, faithful, and good, stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence we feel “the unbearable lightness of being.”(Kundera, 2009)
5. Hesse, H. (2012). Siddhartha. Simon & Brown.
In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.
6. Robbins, T. (1995). Skinny Legs and All (Reprint.). Bantam.
An Arab and a Jew open a restaurant together across the street from the United Nations…
It sounds like the beginning of an ethnic joke, but it’s the axis around which spins Tom Robbins’s gutsy, fun-loving, and alarmingly provocative new novel, in which a bean can philosophizes, a dessert spoon mystifies, a young waitress takes on the New York art world, and a rowdy redneck welder discovers the lost god of Palestine—while the illusions that obscure humanity’s view of the true universe fall away, one by one, like Salome’s veils. Skinny Legs and All deals with today’s most sensitive issues: race, politics, marriage, art, religion, money, and lust. It weaves lyrically through what some call the “end days of our planet. Refusing to avert its gaze from the horrors of the apocalypse, it also refuses to let the alleged end of the world spoil its mood. And its mood is defiantly upbeat.
7. Dick, P. K. (2011). VALIS (Reissue.). Mariner Books.
What is VALIS? This question is at the heart of Philip K. Dick’s ground-breaking novel, and the first book in his defining trilogy. When a beam of pink light begins giving a schizophrenic man named Horselover Fat (who just might also be known as Philip K. Dick) visions of an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire still reigns, he must decide whether he is crazy, or whether a godlike entity is showing him the true nature of the world. By the end, like Dick himself, you will be left wondering what is real, what is fiction, and just what the price is for divine inspiration.
8. Yalom, I. (2006). The Schopenhauer Cure: A Novel (Reprint.). Harper Perennial.
Suddenly confronted with his own mortality after a routine checkup, eminent psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld is forced to reexamine his life and work — and seeks out Philip Slate, a sex addict whom he failed to help some twenty years earlier. Yet Philip claims to be cured — miraculously transformed by the pessimistic teachings of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer — and is, himself, a philosophical counselor in training. Philips dour, misanthropic stance compels Julius to invite Philip to join his intensive therapy group in exchange for tutoring on Schopenhauer. But with mere months left, life may be far too short to help Philip or to compete with him for the hearts and minds of the group members. And then again, it might be just long enough.
To help make sense of existential psychology and particular issues I work with:
1. Identity and Meaning: May, R. (2009). Man’s Search for Himself (Reprint.). W. W. Norton & Company.
Loneliness, boredom, emptiness: These are the complaints that Rollo May encountered over and over from his patients. In response, he probes the hidden layers of personality to reveal the core of man’s integration–a basic and inborn sense of value. Man’s Search for Himself is an illuminating view of our predicament in an age of overwhelming anxieties and gives guidance on how to choose, judge, and act during such times.
2. Existence work in therapy: Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books
Organized around what Yalom identifies as the four “ultimate concerns of life”—death, freedom, existential isolation, and meaninglessness—the book takes up the meaning of each existential concern and the type of conflict that springs from our confrontation with each. He shows how these concerns are manifested in personality and psychopathology, and how treatment can be helped by our knowledge of them.Drawing from clinical experience, empirical research, philosophy, and great literature, Yalom has written a broad and comprehensive book.
3. Understanding Being and Isolation: May, R., (1983). The Discovery of Being — Writings in Existential Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton.
Rollo May draws on the insights of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, and other great thinkers to offer a helpful roadmap of the ideas and techniques of existential psychotherapy. He pays particular attention to the causes of loneliness and isolation, and to our search for stability in an age of anxiety. This was one of the first books on existential psychology I read and it still has a profound influence on how I see the human struggles.
4. Meaning Making As Coping: Frankl, V.E. (1946) Man’s Search for Meaning, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of those he treated in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory—known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)—holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
5. The importance of relationships to the self: Buber, M. (1923) I and Thou, Transl. Kaufman W., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1970.
This work is the centerpiece of Buber’s groundbreaking philosophy. It lays out a view of the world in which human beings can enter into relationships using their innermost and whole being to form true partnerships. These deep forms of rapport contrast with those that spring from the Industrial Revolution, namely the common, but basically unethical, treatment of others as objects for our use and the incorrect view of the universe as merely the object of our senses, experiences. Buber goes on to demonstrate how these interhuman meetings are a reflection of the human meeting with God. For Buber, the essence of biblical religion consists in the fact that — regardless of the infinite abyss between them — a dialogue between man and God is possible.
Ecumenical in its appeal, I and Thou nevertheless reflects the profound Talmudic tradition from which it has emerged. For Judaism, Buber’s writings have been of revolutionary importance. No other writer has so shaken Judaism from parochialism and applied it so relevantly to the problems and concerns of contemporary men. On the other hand, the fundamentalist Protestant movement in this country has appropriated Buber’s “I and Thou encounter” as the implicit basis of its doctrine of immediate faith-based salvation. In this light, Martin Buber has been viewed as the Jewish counterpart to Paul Tillich.
This is the original English translation, available in America only in this hardcover edition of I and Thou. Martin Buber considered Ronald Smith’s the best of the English translations and it was prepared in the author’s presence. The more poetic rendering, this translation can be looked at as the King James Version of Buber’s I and Thou.
To help make sense of specific issues:
1. Teenagers: Walsh, D. (2005). WHY Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. Free Press.
In this national bestseller, acclaimed, award-winning psychologist Dr. David Walsh explains exactly what happens to the human brain on the path from childhood into adolescence and adulthood. Revealing the latest scientific findings in easy-to-understand terms, Dr. Walsh shows why moodiness, quickness to anger and to take risks, miscommunication, fatigue, territoriality, and other familiar teenage behavior problems are so common — all are linked to physical changes and growth in the adolescent brain.
2. Marital conflict: Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (1st ed.). Little, Brown and Company.
n Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson presents Emotionally Focused Therapy to the general public for the first time. Johnson teaches that the way to save and enrich a relationship is to reestablish safe emotional connection and preserve the attachment bond. With this in mind, she focuses on key moments in a relationship-from Recognizing the Demon Dialogue to Revisiting a Rocky Moment-and uses them as touchpoints for seven healing conversations. Through case studies from her practice, illuminating advice, and practical exercises, couples will learn how to nurture their relationships and ensure a lifetime of love.
3. Family Conflict: Satir, V. (1988). The New Peoplemaking (1st ed.). Science and Behavior Books.
Revised and expanded seminal work on families, with over a million copies sold in 12 languages. The New Peoplemaking expresses Satir’s most evolved thoughts on self-worth, communication, family systems, and the ways in which people relate to one another. Drawing on Satir’s lifetime of experience with thousands of families around the world, it is written in the engaging style for which she is famous.
4. Managing Anxiety:
Bourne, E.J. (2000). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 3rd ed. MJF Books.
This is a classic, best-selling workbook on anxiety and phobia that explains cognitive-behavioural techniques in a step-by-step format. It is widely recommended by therapists and other mental health professionals, and I have found that along side existential explorations, these tools can significantly reduce severe symptoms and allow clients to return to functional life.
Orsillo & Roemer (2011) The Mindful Way Through Anxiety
This book is user friendly, practical, and includes insights and exercises on using mindfulness techniques to manage worry and anxiety. I find mindfulness relevant to existential premises and use many of these cognitive tools in my practice and daily life. I believe this book can help you create a more meaningful existence and open new possibilities for you too.
5. Grief and Loss: Therese Tappouni (2013) The Gifts of Grief: Finding Light in the Darkness of Loss.
The Gifts of Grief: Finding the Light in the Darkness of Loss explores the grieving process and examines new ways to heal from the inside out. Couched in Tappouni’s warm and comforting prose, and steeped in examples from her own experiences with deep loss, Therèse is able to walk the reader through the grieving process, while keeping in mind that the journey will be different for every person.
6. Trust and betrayal.: John Gottman (2012) What Makes Love Last? John Gottman plumbs the mysteries of love: Where does it come from? Why does some love last, and why does some fade?
Gottman has spent decades observing the conversational patterns and biorhythms of thousands and thousands of couples in his famous “Love Lab.” Now he applies this research to fundamental questions about trust and betrayal. Doubts are common in relationships. Partners often worry. Can I trust my partner? Am I being betrayed? How do I know for sure? Based on laboratory findings, this book shows readers how to identify signs, behaviors, and attitudes that indicate betrayal—whether sexual or not—and provides strategies for repairing what may seem lost or broken. With a gift for translating complex scientific ideas into insightful and practical advice, Gottman explains how a couple can protect or recover their greatest gift—their love for one another.
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