Ever heard of bibliotherapy? Also known as “reading therapy,” bibliotherapy refers to book-reading programs that promote recovery for those suffering from mental illness. As it turns out, one study found a decrease in depression after a structured program of bibliotherapy (so cool, right?). Oh, and even better? Fiction has been known to improve empathy and social skills, while autobiographical and recovery narratives increase things like connectedness and an understanding of recovery. Nonfiction has also been known to validate a person’s experience, therefore reducing the stigma of mental health.
In other words, we feel less alone when we read.
Sadly, books are an often underrated (and underused!) resource for mental illness. Which is exactly why I’m here to spread the good word about reading! Not into books? Maybe you haven’t found the right one. That’s where you guys come in…
A few days ago, I took to Instagram and asked all of my followers (that’s you!) their all-time favorite books they’d recommend to someone struggling with mental illness. Take a look at the list we compiled below…
1. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk MD
“Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.”
2. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay
“Following the success of Lean In and Why Women Should Rule the World, the authors of the bestselling Womenomics provide an informative and practical guide to understanding the importance of confidence—and learning how to achieve it—for women of all ages and at all stages of their career.
Working women today are better educated and more qualified than ever before. Yet men still predominate in the corporate world. In The Confidence Code, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay argue that the key reason is confidence.
Combining cutting-edge research in genetics, gender, behavior, and cognition—with examples from their own lives and those of other successful women in politics, media, and business—Kay and Shipman go beyond admonishing women to “lean in.” Instead, they offer inspiration and practical advice women need to close the gap and achieve the careers they want and deserve.”
3. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
“The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.
With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.
And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.
Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.”
4. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
“Furiously Happy is about taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between ‘surviving life’ and ‘living life.’ It’s the difference between ‘taking a shower’ and ‘teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.’ It’s the difference between being ‘sane’ and being ‘furiously happy.’
Lawson is beloved around the world for her inimitable humor and honesty, and in Furiously Happy, she is at her snort-inducing funniest. This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are—the beautiful and flawed—and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. Because as Jenny’s mom says, ‘Maybe ‘crazy’ isn’t so bad after all.’ Sometimes crazy is just right.”
5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho continues to change the lives of its readers forever. With more than two million copies sold around the world, The Alchemist has established itself as a modern classic, universally admired.
Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.
The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.”
6. Supernormal by Meg Jay
“Whether it is the loss of a parent to death or divorce; bullying; alcoholism or drug abuse in the home; mental illness in a parent or a sibling; neglect; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; having a parent in jail; or growing up alongside domestic violence, nearly 75% of us experience adversity by the age of 20. But these experiences are often kept secret, as are our courageous battles to overcome them.
Drawing on nearly two decades of work with clients and students, Jay tells the tale of ordinary people made extraordinary by these all-too-common experiences, everyday superheroes who have made a life out of dodging bullets and leaping over obstacles, even as they hide in plain sight as doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, parents, activists, teachers, students and readers. She gives a voice to the supernormals among us as they reveal not only “How do they do it?” but also “How does it feel?”
These powerful stories, and those of public figures from Andre Agassi to Jay Z, will show supernormals they are not alone but are, in fact, in good company.
Marvelously researched and compassionately written, this exceptional book narrates the continuing saga that is resilience as it challenges us to consider whether—and how—the good wins out in the end.”
7. Running on Empty by Jonice Webb
“Do you sometimes feel as if you’re just going through the motions in life? Are you good at looking and acting as if you’re fine, but secretly feel lonely and disconnected? Perhaps you have a fine life and are good at your work, but somehow it’s just not enough to make you happy.
If so, you are not alone. The world is full of people who have an innate sense that something is wrong with them. Who feel they live on the outside looking in, but have no explanation for their feelings and no way to put it into words. Who blame themselves for not being happier.
If you are one of these people, you may fear that you are not connected enough to your spouse, or that you don’t feel pleasure or love as profoundly as others do. Perhaps when you do experience strong emotions, you have difficulty understanding or tolerating them. You may drink too much, or eat too much, or risk too much, in an attempt to feel something good.
Running on Empty will give you clear strategies for how to heal, and offers a special chapter for mental health professionals. In the world of human suffering, this book is an Emotional Smart Bomb meant to eradicate the effects of an invisible enemy.”
8. Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn
“‘When you’re dumb enough for long enough, you’re gonna meet someone too smart to love you, and they’re gonna love you anyway, and it’s gonna go so poorly,’ Neil Hilborn writes in his debut full-length collection, OUR NUMBERED DAYS. In 2013, Hilborn’s poem ‘OCD’ went viral, and has amassed over 11 million views to date. While this collection ruminates on love, heartbreak, and mental illness, these poems are anything but saccharine. Hilborn uses the same humor and self-deprecation that propelled ‘OCD’ to success in order to make his unmatched vulnerability all the more powerful. Ultimately, Hilborn is a poet of the people: his work is accessible, honest, and entertaining a revitalizing entry in contemporary poetry.”
9. Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch
“We all sustain emotional wounds. Failure, guilt, rejection, and loss are as much a part of life as the occasional scraped elbow. But while we typically bandage a cut or ice a sprained ankle, our first aid kit for emotional injuries is not just understocked—it’s nonexistent.
Fortunately, there is such a thing as mental first aid for battered emotions. Drawing on the latest scientific research and using real-life examples, practicing psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D. offers specific step-by-step treatments that are fast, simple, and effective. Prescriptive and unique, Emotional First Aid is essential reading for anyone looking to become more resilient, build self-esteem, and let go of the hurts and hang-ups that are holding them back.”
Love what you see? Then you’ll LOVE my new book, Be Free. Be You. (psst…it just hit the shelves this summer!). It’s time to awaken to your full potential, say goodbye to limitations, and let go of shallow relationships—today is the day you take the first step to living your best authentic life. Grab yours ASAP!