The best psychotherapy books

10 authors have picked their favorite books about Psychotherapy and why they recommend each book.

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A Guide to Rational Living

By Albert Ellis,

Book cover of A Guide to Rational Living

Does your happiness depend on the opinion and good will of others? Or can you live a happy and fulfilled life even if others disapprove of you? Do events make you happy or sad, or do your emotions arise because of your thinking—whether rational or irrational? These are the central questions that psychologists Albert Ellis and Robert Harper address in this timeless classic of self-growth and self-care. The authors explicitly draw on the Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, as forerunners of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Of all the books on the subject of living happily, creatively, and meaningfully, this one is near the top of my list.


Who am I?

Ronald W. Pies, MD is a psychiatrist, ethicist, and writer who has authored several works on Stoic philosophy and related spiritual traditions, including Everything Has Two Handles; The Three-Petalled Rose; and a more light-hearted work, Don’t Worry—Nothing Will Turn Out All Right! Dr. Pies is also a published poet (The Doctor’s Poems) and novelist (The Director of Minor Tragedies). He teaches at Tufts University and SUNY Upstate Medical University, where he holds faculty positions.


I wrote...

The Three-Petalled Rose: How the Synthesis of Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism Can Create a Healthy, Fulfilled and Flourishing Life

By Ronald W. Pies,

Book cover of The Three-Petalled Rose: How the Synthesis of Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism Can Create a Healthy, Fulfilled and Flourishing Life

What is my book about?

This is a book for anyone who wants to live "the good life," but who has not yet found a clear path to that goal. By examining the common threads that unite three, great spiritual traditions--Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism--the author provides a framework for achieving a fulfilled and ethically responsible life. The author helps the reader take the spiritual "nutrients" from these three ancient traditions and transform them into a life of beauty, order, and purpose. No scholarly expertise or special knowledge of religion is required to understand this book, nor need the reader believe in a "supreme being" or owe allegiance to a particular religion. All that's needed is an open mind and a sincere desire to create an awakened and flourishing life.

The Gift of Therapy

By Irvin D. Yalom,

Book cover of The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients

Probably the best place to start with Yalom, this book is a must-read for therapists, and I recommend it regularly to anyone getting started in the business, or even contemplating pursuing a career in psychotherapy. The hardest guide to write about psychotherapy is the book about “technique” - not the highfalutin theory laced with opaque language book, but the hands-on, “this is what you say when someone says this” or “here's what you can do when you run into someone in this sort of situation” book.  This is that book, and only Yalom, with his immense experience and humility, could pull off this slender guide, packed with the wisdom of decades of working, alone, in a room with another human being in pain.  I return to this book regularly and always find something new and useful in his words.


Who am I?

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice, and the author of several books. Like me, Yalom is a psychotherapist as well as an author, and the best of his writing takes place in that heightened zone where emotions seem to crackle because two people are sustaining an authentic contact, actually being “there” with one another – like the very best, life-changing moments in psychotherapy. I dreamt last night about Irvin Yalom. So yeah, Yalom can get into your head, in a good way.


I wrote...

Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

By Will Meyerhofer,

Book cover of Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

What is my book about?

This book is a guide for discovering joy, the simple pleasure of living each day. I am a psychotherapist, with an office in New York City. As I work with patients and listen to their stories, I search for themes that define the human condition. These themes have melded into a philosophy centered upon living with joy... No book can substitute for the process of psychotherapy. But I hope these ideas will introduce you to the work of self-discovery at the heart of that experience. 

Momma and the Meaning of Life

By Irvin D. Yalom,

Book cover of Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy

I love Yalom's books of what might, in lesser hands, be termed “case studies.” I say that because Yalom is constantly writing about his work with his patients, but they never feel like a “case study” - something plodding and formulaic and one-sided. In Yalom's hands the case studies are never mere discussions of the pathologies of his patient, but rise into a magical interplay between two equals, two human beings yearning for a way to connect and heal through authentic presence, honesty, and love. If there is “classic Yalom” it is probably these books. Creatures of a Day and Loves Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy are superb as well, and frankly, I tend to think of them all as parts of a whole, one big book of Yalom's shorter pieces in which he explores his work one-on-one with the hurting human beings who show up at his door.


Who am I?

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice, and the author of several books. Like me, Yalom is a psychotherapist as well as an author, and the best of his writing takes place in that heightened zone where emotions seem to crackle because two people are sustaining an authentic contact, actually being “there” with one another – like the very best, life-changing moments in psychotherapy. I dreamt last night about Irvin Yalom. So yeah, Yalom can get into your head, in a good way.


I wrote...

Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

By Will Meyerhofer,

Book cover of Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

What is my book about?

This book is a guide for discovering joy, the simple pleasure of living each day. I am a psychotherapist, with an office in New York City. As I work with patients and listen to their stories, I search for themes that define the human condition. These themes have melded into a philosophy centered upon living with joy... No book can substitute for the process of psychotherapy. But I hope these ideas will introduce you to the work of self-discovery at the heart of that experience. 

Becoming Myself

By Irvin D. Yalom,

Book cover of Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrist's Memoir

An absolutely gorgeous autobiography that never for a moment bogs down in the details, but soars above the timeline of Yalom's life by concerning itself chiefly with glimmers of insight, events that have lived on in his unconscious and formed him into the healer he became. Like all of Yalom's best work, I found myself reading it slowly, savoring every word. The honesty, if you open yourself to it, and accept that he really is telling you the honest to god truth, smacks you in the face like few authors I've ever encountered. I kept thinking, if I do enough psychotherapy for long enough, I might be able to pull off this degree of self-knowledge.


Who am I?

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice, and the author of several books. Like me, Yalom is a psychotherapist as well as an author, and the best of his writing takes place in that heightened zone where emotions seem to crackle because two people are sustaining an authentic contact, actually being “there” with one another – like the very best, life-changing moments in psychotherapy. I dreamt last night about Irvin Yalom. So yeah, Yalom can get into your head, in a good way.


I wrote...

Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

By Will Meyerhofer,

Book cover of Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

What is my book about?

This book is a guide for discovering joy, the simple pleasure of living each day. I am a psychotherapist, with an office in New York City. As I work with patients and listen to their stories, I search for themes that define the human condition. These themes have melded into a philosophy centered upon living with joy... No book can substitute for the process of psychotherapy. But I hope these ideas will introduce you to the work of self-discovery at the heart of that experience. 

The Transforming Power of Affect

By Diana Fosha,

Book cover of The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change

Before I learned about emotions, I believed my anxiety and depression had to be managed but could not be healed at the root. Learning that emotions were not under conscious control and that they were physical experiences that had purpose and meaning changed the way I understood myself for the better. It changed my mental health permanently and in the best ways. It gave me permission to be more authentic. I felt less ashamed of my feelings and more confident that I could help myself and be better in relationships.


Who am I?

I am a psychoanalyst, AEDP psychotherapist, emotions educator, author, speaker, and blogger. My passion is sharing what I learned in my psychotherapy training with people interested in improving their emotional health. I became increasingly outraged that everyone did not have access to this crucial information on emotions so I started writing and teaching. After almost 20 years of teaching and using the Change Triangle, I have found it to be the most practical tool to increase emotional health and to reduce and heal anxiety and depression at its roots for lasting change. It is a true game-changer for well-being.


I wrote...

It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

By Hilary Jacobs Hendel,

Book cover of It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self

What is my book about?

Our dysfunctional society teaches us to push away emotions instead of teaching us how to work with emotions in healthy ways. Pushing down emotions like anger, sadness, and joy, is precisely what leads to anxiety, depression, and a feeling of disconnection from our full self. 

It's Not Always Depression shows you how to work with your emotions for greater well-being now and over your lifetime. Through stories of healing and transformation, jargon-free science explanations, and gentle exercises this book teaches us all we need to know about emotions to thrive amidst the many emotional challenges of life. 

A Soprano on Her Head

By Eloise Ristad,

Book cover of A Soprano on Her Head: Right-Side-Up Reflections on Life and Other Performances

A Soprano on Her Head was inspired by W. Timothy Galley’s Inner Game of Tennis book, applying these principles to musical performance and creativity. It is a wonderful anecdotal collection of delightful experiences in playing any instrument, dancing, or singing with the inner freedom that all artists long for. The book is as much about learning from your own experience, the creative process, and harnessing these tools as they could apply to music performance, teaching, and learning. She explores nervous energy and stress through insight and common sense. Her stories make an effortless and delightful read filled with applicable knowledge and skills for daily living. 


Who am I?

I am the former Principal bassist with the Cincinnati Symphony and am currently active as a soloist, educator, and author of three books on the mind, body, and spirit of music. My first book is about the mind, The Inner Game of Music, followed by The Mastery of Music on the human spirit of over 120 great musicians and Bringing Music to Life exploring physical skills of communication of all artists, actors, and dancers. I hope to inspire artists of all disciplines, that our performances come from our hearts and souls and not the technical form of dance, music, or words. Performers express feelings and use this gift to spread inspiration and joy to the world.


I wrote...

The Inner Game of Music

By Barry Green, W. Timothy Gallwey,

Book cover of The Inner Game of Music

What is my book about?

Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, the popular author of the Inner Game of Tennis, Inner Skiing, Golf, and Work. Together they have taken the same principles which proved so successful when used in sports and applied them to music. The Inner Game is designed to help every musician overcome obstacles, improve concentration, reduce nervousness, and paving the way for heightened performance.

Green explains how innate skills can be enhanced by focusing on the music rather than outer games of technique and awards. The technique can be summarized in 4 words: turn up the music and are used for the purpose of drowning out the shouts...that come from the interfering voices of doubt, fear, and judgment. Instead of listening to the inner voices, the musician focuses only on musical sounds that include their awareness, commitment, and trust skills.

A Year of Positive Thinking for Teens

By Katie Hurley,

Book cover of A Year of Positive Thinking for Teens: Daily Motivation to Beat Stress, Inspire Happiness, and Achieve Your Goals

Katie Hurley is a highly respected child and adolescent psychotherapist who really knows how kids think and feel. She wrote this book during the pandemic, and she offers reassurance and lots of practical motivational strategies to empower kids when they feel stressed, overwhelmed, or stuck. The book is beautifully organized—day by day over the course of a full year—and it includes many resources as well. A Year of Positive Thinking is a book that kids can refer to often, including whenever they need a boost to increase their confidence, embrace uncertainty, confront change, or maximize their potential.

Who am I?

I write about supporting and encouraging children’s and teens’ intelligence, creativity, productivity, and well-being. I’m an educational consultant with over 35 years of experience working with parents, teachers, and students within diverse communities, and I’m the award-winning author of seven books. I focus a lot on gifted education and procrastination. Within my books, articles, and presentations, there are tons of strategies and resources to help motivate kids—and empower their learning. My books include Being Smart about Gifted Learning and Beyond Intelligence (both co-authored with Dona Matthews), ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, Bust Your BUTS, and Not Now, Maybe Later.


I wrote...

Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate

By Joanne Foster,

Book cover of Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate

What is my book about?

Bust Your BUTS helps people 10+ understand, prevent, manage, and eliminate procrastination. In this follow-up to my parenting book, Not Now, Maybe Later, I describe 28 BUTS (different reasons why kids procrastinate). I don’t judge—rather I offer concise, relatable explanations, and I share hundreds of practical tips for busting those BUTS. There’s information on motivation, and on how to confront various challenges, become organized, use time wisely, set attainable goals, and become more productive.

Bust Your BUTS received a Benjamin Franklin Award™ from the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. This is the book procrastinators need now. Plus, it’s a timely resource for parents, teachers, or anyone who wants to learn more about effort, responsibility, and fulfillment. A quick and motivating read—no BUTS about it!

All Write

By Deborah L. Mandel,

Book cover of All Write: How to Start, Structure, and Sustain a Writing Group

A writing group provides invaluable help for aspiring writers. I participated in a group for several years, which helped me hone my first two manuscripts that were then published as the start of the Billy Boyle WWII mystery series.

All Write focuses on how to organize a group and includes tips on writing and constructive critiquing. Mandel, with her background as a writer, copyeditor, writing group member, and psychotherapist, offers concrete how-to advice on how to maximize the effectiveness of a writing group for all members. This book is packed with writing tips, lessons, and group exercises that can be immediately put to work. 

(Full disclosure: the author is my wife.)


Who am I?

I’ve always wanted to write. It took years to get started, and after working in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years, I quit the day job routine in 2011 to write full time. I've learned two valuable lessons since I started writing which have been of immense help. The first is a quote from writer and activist Mary Heaton Vorse, who said, "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who told me that "the story has to move down, as well as forward." Both sound simple. Neither is.


I wrote...

Road of Bones

By James R. Benn,

Book cover of Road of Bones

What is my book about?

Billy Boyle is sent to the heart of the USSR to solve a double-murder at a critical turning point in the war in this latest installment of critically acclaimed James R. Benn's WWII mystery series.

It’s September 1944, and the US is poised to launch Operation Frantic, shuttle-bombing missions conducted by American aircraft based in Great Britain, southern Italy, and three Soviet airfields in Ukraine. Tensions are already high between the American and Russian allies when two intelligence agents—one Soviet, one American—are found dead at Poltava, one of the Ukrainian bases. Billy is brought in to investigate is paired, at the insistence of the Soviets, with a KGB agent who has his own political and personal agenda.

The Couch and the Tree

By Anthony Molino (editor),

Book cover of The Couch and the Tree: Dialogues in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism

This collection of essays contains pieces by many of the same authors in my first recommendation. But this begins with the historical roots, including early psychoanalytic arguments that meditation was an attempt to return to the womb. Also, there are Buddhist writers emphasizing that in meditating you're trying to get to a state of "no mind," so what good was psychotherapy? But the book moves to a conversation between a Japanese Zen teacher and C.G. Jung, and then towards the Dalai Lama's thoughts about the unconscious. It even includes a writer who is both a psychoanalyst and a Zen priest.


Who am I?

I've been a meditator for fifty years, learning from many teachers. I've been a psychotherapist for twenty years. The connections between meditation and psychotherapy are subtle and powerful. When I started my psychology studies, I went to my Zen teacher and asked for his guidance. I knew I couldn't survive the academic path without more depth in my meditation practice. There were two professors who captured my attention: one, the most psychoanalytic teacher at my school, and one, a student of the same Zen master who taught Leonard Cohen. They guided my research. If you're a psychotherapist, are in psychotherapy yourself, or are a meditator, you will love these books.


I wrote...

Working With the Dying: Compassion, Shame, and the Illusion of Loss

By Alvin Raja Hornstein,

Book cover of Working With the Dying: Compassion, Shame, and the Illusion of Loss

What is my book about?

I worked as a hospice volunteer for ten years. That experience of caring for people who were dying ordinary deaths was the foundation of my becoming a clinical psychologist. This book explains how compassion, the essence of hospice work, is essential to psychotherapy, and why it is also at the center of any meditation practice.

I started out as a mathematician, so I don't leave out the scientific basis for my ideas in this book. I worked as a professional photographer and learned how to get people to reveal the depths of who they are. I used that skill in interviewing other hospice volunteers, and their stories reveal how they used compassion to struggle with loss. Their different paths hold lessons about living and dying.

Psychotherapy Without the Self

By Mark Epstein,

Book cover of Psychotherapy Without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective

I had to choose one of Mark Epstein's many books on this topic. I remember sitting on a meditation cushion and listening to him address a large group of meditators and psychotherapists. In this book he addresses Freud's view of meditation as a regressive quest for the "oceanic feeling" of the infant, but he also points out how Freud suggested an almost Zen-like method for how the psychoanalyst should pay attention to the patient. As a photographer, I was eager to read his discussion about art, meditation and the unconscious. Like all of Epstein's books, this is deeply examined and beautifully written.


Who am I?

I've been a meditator for fifty years, learning from many teachers. I've been a psychotherapist for twenty years. The connections between meditation and psychotherapy are subtle and powerful. When I started my psychology studies, I went to my Zen teacher and asked for his guidance. I knew I couldn't survive the academic path without more depth in my meditation practice. There were two professors who captured my attention: one, the most psychoanalytic teacher at my school, and one, a student of the same Zen master who taught Leonard Cohen. They guided my research. If you're a psychotherapist, are in psychotherapy yourself, or are a meditator, you will love these books.


I wrote...

Working With the Dying: Compassion, Shame, and the Illusion of Loss

By Alvin Raja Hornstein,

Book cover of Working With the Dying: Compassion, Shame, and the Illusion of Loss

What is my book about?

I worked as a hospice volunteer for ten years. That experience of caring for people who were dying ordinary deaths was the foundation of my becoming a clinical psychologist. This book explains how compassion, the essence of hospice work, is essential to psychotherapy, and why it is also at the center of any meditation practice.

I started out as a mathematician, so I don't leave out the scientific basis for my ideas in this book. I worked as a professional photographer and learned how to get people to reveal the depths of who they are. I used that skill in interviewing other hospice volunteers, and their stories reveal how they used compassion to struggle with loss. Their different paths hold lessons about living and dying.

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