The 7 self-help books I recommend most often to my clients

If you’ve seen the massive wall of bookshelves in my office, you already know I love books!

Today, I thought I would share with you the seven books I find myself recommending to my clients again and again around self-care and self-help, in case any of them turn out to be just the thing you need right now.

So: seven books–here we go!

1. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer

This was the very first book I read when I was setting out on a major career change some years ago, and I’ve returned to it again and again. Parker Palmer’s basic point in this short but profound little book is simple: if you want to find your true calling in this world, you have to learn how to let go of what your parents or your friends think you should be, and what you yourself wish you were, and discover who you actually are.

My personal favorite quote from this book:

Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”

Now, let’s look at three books for introverted, highly sensitive, and/or empathic folks:

2. QuietThe Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

Have you read this one? To all my introverted clients, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book if you ever feel down about yourself. I personally felt so seen when I read it. 

It’s not a self-help book, really–more of a history of how American culture came to value extroversion more highly than introversion, and why we need both tendencies in any society. But it’s also a love letter to introverts everywhere who are craving affirmation and encouragement to be themselves.  

3. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine N. Aron

I use this classic book in my coaching groups for highly sensitive clergy. If you seem to feel things more deeply than other people do (maybe music or art moves you to tears, and you hate watching violent movies)…

or if you get overwhelmed by bright lights, loud sounds, or too much time in a busy environment, and you need lots of quiet time to recover…

or if you’ve ever been called “too sensitive”– you might be a “highly sensitive person.” Dr. Aron’s book is full of insights on the challenges and gifts of being a HSP, plus advice for making work and relationships work better for you.  

By the way, here’s a fun connection: Susan Cain profiles Dr. Aron in her book Quiet (#2 on today’s list).

4. The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, by Judith Orloff

If you’re an empath–you tend to absorb other people’s physical or emotional energy, or maybe you have unusually strong intuition or other gifts of spiritual perception–Dr. Orloff’s book is a great practical read on how to protect your energetic boundaries and thrive. 

I highly recommend it if you often find yourself exhausted from getting sucked into other people’s dramas and you want some support around setting stronger personal boundaries–even in tricky situations like getting stuck next to a talkative stranger on an airplane, for example. 

Plus, I quite enjoy her writing style! It’s very direct and to the point, compassionate, and often quite funny in a low-key way.  

Next, my two favorite books for anyone struggling to recover from chronic exhaustion and burnout: 

5. Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky 

If you’re a caregiver, or working in any kind of human-services field, you probably know what it’s like to feel wrung-out and maybe even drained of compassion for the folks you’re there to help. “Secondary trauma” is real and can be incredibly damaging to your own health and well-being.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky spells out what secondary trauma feels like and the sneaky impacts that it can have on your well-being. When I read it a few years ago, I was shocked to recognize some symptoms of secondary trauma in myself that I never knew were a thing, like hypervigilance and diminished creativity. 

But the best part of her book is that she walks you through tons of ideas and resources to help you care for yourself and find a better way forward. Highly recommended for anyone who is struggling in any kind of caregiving role. 

6. Laziness Does Not Exist, by Devon Price

Oh my gosh, I want everyone I know to read this one. It’s about what Dr. Price calls “the Laziness Lie”–the harmful falsehood built deep into American culture that says:

1. Your worth is your productivity.

2. You cannot trust your own feelings and limits.

3. There is always more you could be doing.

Oof, those ideas all got baked into my spirit as I grew up. I’m entranced by Dr. Price’s debunking of them and their reframing of “laziness” as a cruel description of the very people who are often carrying the heaviest burdens of stress and trauma in our world. 

And this chapter title: “You Deserve to Work Less”–oh, the emotions around this one run deep for so many of us. 

If you struggle with exhaustion and rigidly high expectations of yourself, I highly encourage you to check this book out so you can find your way to a gentler way of being with your work.  

And last, a massively important book on the intersection of race, trauma, and somatic healing:

7. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem

Resmaa Menakem is the real deal–a deeply compassionate and skilled healer with a passion for helping people here in the United States dismantle the racism that lives not only in our minds, but in our bodies. 

It’s not an easy read, but I’ve found his somatic exercises and thought-experiments profoundly helpful in my own unlearning of racism and white supremacy. 

And he has a powerful take on how racism in America first came to be: in essence, European settlers, who had themselves been traumatized by violence in their homelands for many generations, replicated a culture of traumatic violence on this land because they didn’t know how to do anything else. This is not an excuse, but it is an explanation that opened my heart to both pity, for those long-ago ancestors of mine, and hope, for all of us today who can learn a new way of being with each other. 

If you’ve been harmed by racism–and in different ways, that’s all of us–I cannot recommend this book enough as an invitation and a pathway to healing.   

So there you have it–my top seven books that I recommend to my clients over and over. I sincerely hope at least one of them will help you on your own journey toward more ease, self-compassion, and joy!

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