You only have to look at the phenomenal sales in consumer-facing neuroscience and psychology books to appreciate the undeniable appetite we have for better understanding ourselves and those around us. As I’ve said previously, you have to want to come to psychotherapy and taking an interest in some of the ideas, even at the most rudimentary level, can make all the difference. There are lots of brilliant books out there. Some introduce you to some basic psychological principles in a really accessible way. Others simply make observations about the way we live our lives; in doing so they provoke us to think more widely about our situation.
There are some who question whether these books really make a difference to our lives. I think it depends on how you use them. For me, they are not a complete means to an end but I feel they can certainly aid the psychotherapeutic process by getting us thinking, engaging in ideas and perhaps opening our minds to alternative ways of interpreting the world around us. Whilst there’s absolutely no pre-requisite to read any of the below, if my clients have read a few snippets here and there, we often find the discussions can prove extremely helpful in our work together.
A Little Library
Nature or Nurture. Which side of the debate do you come down on? This book explains why it’s a bit of both. For those interested in the neuroscientific and psychological foundations of Psychotherapy, this is a great read. Sue Gerhardt explains how our brains develop in the interface between genetics and experience and how we all enjoy a level of neuroplasticity – our brain’s ability to develop throughout life. Recognition and acceptance of neuroplasticity is critical for those wondering if a change in our thoughts and behaviour is really possible.
Prof Steve Peters
Whilst you may not connect with the idea of an inner chimp in your brain (read it and you’ll see what I mean), Steve Peters makes the neuroscience accessible. In doing so, he sheds light on some of our unhelpful behaviours and highlights how to change them. As I’ve mentioned in ‘Is This For You?’ there are plenty of top athletes who swear by his framework. I’d say it works because the science is solid. You may not want to refer to your inner chimp but who’s to say you can’t adapt the terms to suit you?
Have you ever wondered why, when you’re so involved in an activity, time seems to disappear? When this happens, we’re said to be ‘in the flow’ and we often find ourselves re invigorated, energised and confident at the end of the activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains why this happens and how to structure our lives accordingly so we give ourselves the best chance of getting ‘into the flow’.
Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan
We’re probably all familiar with the term, ‘work hard, play hard’. Yet I often find that some highly ambitious people can actively stop themselves having fun in the belief that fun and play will only serve to distract them from the task ahead. ‘Play’ is a lovely book that helps explain why the opposite is true. Far from delaying success, having fun and playing around can actually aid productivity, creativity and innovation. Look no further than Google’s offices to see this idea in action.
We can be dazzled by the power of logic and are often convinced that our views are correct. Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman reveals how prone our thoughts are to error, bias and prejudice even when we’re sure we’ve been objective and rational. Understanding how and why this happens can give us the courage to look beyond our most firmly held beliefs and perhaps just start to consider other perspectives.
Ross W. Greene, PhD
Whilst this book focuses on the parent/child relationship, I’ve added it to the list because the principles are relevant for adult relationships too. This book can be helpful for those looking for more practical ideas on how to navigate difficult relationships.
If you’ve ever wondered why we get gut feelings or experience sudden moments of intuition, this book acts as a nice introduction. There’s no hard core science in it so for those of you wanting a lighter read, this could be a good option.
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton opens our eyes to the need for social bonds, love, friendship, rituals and practice without ever touching on the science. For some, this is a good thing, for others not. What do his ideas bring up for you?