The best books that offer surprising and useful insights into the management of mental suffering

Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne Author Of The Devil You Know: Encounters in Forensic Psychiatry
By Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne

Who are we?

We are a writing team of doctor and dramatist, two long-time friends who have made our life’s work over the last 30 years the exploration of empathy, with her forensic patients in Gwen’s case, and for Eileen, through the invention of characters in dramas. Our shared passion, as our five book choices reveal, is to offer hope through the healing power of narrative; as Carl Jung said, "the reason for evil in the world is that people are unable to tell their stories."

We wrote...

The Devil You Know: Encounters in Forensic Psychiatry

By Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne,

Book cover of The Devil You Know: Encounters in Forensic Psychiatry

What is our book about?

Dr. Gwen Adshead is one of Britain's leading forensic psychiatrists. She treats serial killers, arsonists, stalkers, gang members, and other individuals who are usually labelled 'monsters.' Whatever their crime, she listens to their stories and helps them to better understand their terrible acts of violence. Here Adshead invites the reader to step with her into the room to meet twelve patients and discover how minds can change. These men and women are revealed in all their complexity and shared humanity. Their stories make a powerful case for rehabilitation over revenge, compassion over condemnation. The Devil You Know will challenge everything you thought you knew about human nature.

The books we picked & why

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Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

By Anne Lamott,

Book cover of Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

Why this book?

One of several Lamott non-fiction works that we love, you’ll return to this slim volume many times over for a witty, warming shot of wisdom. With a familiar mix of the philosophical, autobiographical, and anecdotal, Lamott provides a refreshing perspective on coping with hopelessness and suffering, both private and public. For Lamott, meaning comes from ‘living stitch by stitch' and protects us from being overwhelmed by the world’s problems (or our own). Through hard topics including her own addiction and losses, the author testifies to the power of hope and community. Like a therapist or forensic psychiatrist, Lamott talks of the import of bearing witness to the suffering of others, as a path to change.

The Screwtape Letters

By C.S. Lewis,

Book cover of The Screwtape Letters

Why this book?

Despite a very different voice and style, this work mirrors Lamott’s messaging. Perhaps more familiar as the author of the Narnia books, here Jack Lewis offers a devil’s view of how humans get tempted to evil. The book is made up of imaginary letters from a senior devil Screwtape to a junior and incompetent. This book is as witty as it is truthful; particularly about how much suffering arises from self-deception. And we highly recommend listening to the audio version perfectly read by John Cleese!

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

By Ann Patchett,

Book cover of Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

Why this book?

Patchett is a sublime novelist, but this work of memoir is unbeatable, one of those books you find yourself gifting to friends and family as soon as you’ve finished it. Written soon after her dear friend, the poet Lucy Grealy, died too young, this is an account of their deep friendship over two decades. Though they had much in common, the story as it unfolds demonstrates how it is possible for two people to grapple with creative struggles and trauma very differently. We also felt Patchett captured some essential qualities of female friendship, so that we see Lucy through Ann’s eyes, and makes us also Lucy’s friends.


By Pat Barker,

Book cover of Regeneration

Why this book?

This is another book about creativity, trauma, and the healing power of writing, but this time, the subjects are men. In this work of historical fiction, Barker explores the real experiences of the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and their psychotherapist WH Rivers. Barker gives us a nuanced look at male love and friendship within her exploration of a doctor working on the treatment of trauma, then described as ‘shell shock’ (today known as PTSD). 

Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why this book?

The ultimate book about spiritual survival, written by concentration camp survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. They say this book was written in nine days, and you’ll read it in one sitting; more than a story of the horrors of daily life in Auschwitz, this is a handbook for dealing with every kind of despair. Gwen has applied Frankl’s insights in her forensic practice to help offenders discover meaning in the harm they’ve done to themselves and their victims and seen how doing so can transform mental anguish into finding some purpose in life, a freedom we all have – even someone serving a life sentence in prison. Frankl’s life-changing message is that ‘those who have a why to live can bear almost any how.’

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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