Discover the best books for therapists, as selected by mental health professionals.
Here are their recommendations:
Therapists work overtime and need access to the best resources to help children handle emotions, process trauma, develop coping strategies, and heal.
The pandemic has created an increase in anxiety, depression, and several other emotional problems. The use of books in the therapeutic model, Bibliotherapy, “book therapy,” is a creative arts therapy that involves storytelling or reading specific books to help and heal.
Using a therapeutic book to help a child creates a mirroring effect. The child can see themselves in the story and feel less isolated and more understood. What is empowering about therapeutic children’s books is their mobility and supportive nature.
These books can be used in the therapy setting, at school, and at home with ease. Here are a few great books for therapists on tough topics:
Self-Acceptance and Inclusion:
A Best-Seller! This book is a delightful collection of positive affirmations, the perfect therapeutic model to introduce and reinforce the message for young children on self-acceptance, the acceptance of others, and room for the inclusion of other children.
In Session: The girls you have in your office will see themselves or their friends in this book’s beautiful illustrations. This timeless story teaches children about being kind to themselves and one another. The teaching points will help your patients battle negative chatter in their thoughts and build self-esteem.
Body Safety and Consent:
by Zack and Kimberly King
A Best-Seller and highly recommended book by therapists and parents- this book helps kids set healthy boundaries and learn about consent.
This topic can be a daunting and awkward task for counselors and parents. Written from a kid’s point of view, I Said No! makes this task a lot easier. I Said No! uses kid-friendly language and illustrations to help therapists and concerned adults give kids guidance they can understand, practice, and use.
Using a simple, direct, decidedly non-icky approach that doesn’t dumb down the issues involved, as well as an easy-to-use system to help kids rehearse and remember appropriate responses to help keep them safe. This book covers a variety of topics that make it ideal for the therapeutic setting and is an excellent tool for prevention and healing.
In Session: The book can be used in therapy to cover:
- Retelling the story -What’s appropriate and with whom.
- “What if” – talks about how to deal with inappropriate behavior, bribes, and threats.
- Role-Playing – When and where to go for help.
- Journaling – Dealing with feelings of guilt and shame.
- Drawing tricks abusers use and how to identify them
- Brainstorming -Who are the safe adults they can go to with problems?
- Rehearsing raising a red or green flag in the session using small red flags
- Identifying red/green flag emotions by drawing or painting.
- Playing with dolls and talking about the book.
This thoughtfully crafted book is one of the best books on the topic of childhood depression. The author rips the band-aid right off of depression in a supportive, helpful, hopeful way.
The truth is that many children struggle with anxiety and depression from a very young age.
There aren’t many books that broach this topic for young children and parents. This book is an absolute must-have in every therapy setting. If this book were available when my son struggled with sadness and the “blues,” we might be singing a different song at this point of his life.
The signs are there! Sometimes parents can’t see them.
In Session: This book will help immediately. It will open up a conversation to provide support to let the child know other kids feel this way too. It is hard to hear from a therapist or doctor that your child may have depression. When shared with a parent as a resource, it is a more gentle approach to starting a needed discussion on childhood depression.
Ironically, The Black Cloud Blues is a light way to introduce kids to the concept of depression and asking for help for not just physical problems but also mental ones. The illustrations lend themselves to art therapy. This book can be used in retelling the story, role-playing, and utilizing drawing and painting as part of the therapeutic process.
Grief, Loss, and Anxiety:
The Invisible String is perfect for therapists and parents to use as a tool for coping with a plethora of difficult emotions like separation anxiety, loss, and grief. In this relatable and calming story, a mother tells her children they’re all connected by an invisible string.
“An Invisible String made of love.” Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.”
This story encourages talking points on love and connection.
In Session: You can read this extraordinary book in session and invite the child and caregiver to create a large heart attached by “invisible strings” to smaller hearts to identify all the people who love them. The concepts in this book can apply to any form of loss and separation. Drawing and painting are fantastic techniques to engage younger children and help them access their emotions.
Little Bear is a worrier, and he can’t stop worrying! Sound familiar? Mama Bear helps, and soon this little bear learns his worries are not so big after all. Through this engaging and wonderfully illustrated story, children will learn that everyday worries and fears can be overcome.
In session: Therapists can model how they are listeners of worries and use talk therapy and creative art with clients. Also included in this book are discussion questions for counselors, educators, caregivers, and parents on extra strategies to help children manage anxiety.
Emotional Support During Divorce:
by Kimberly King
Divorce can be a traumatic experience for children, but parents can do a lot to help ease stress and uncertainty. When Your Parents Divorce is an effective tool that therapists can use to help children with questions and concerns that arise during this difficult and stressful time.
Told from a child’s perspective, using clear and kid-friendly language, When Your Parents Divorce will help you and your children adjust to divorce in a positive, cooperative, and supportive way.
When coupled with family therapy, this book covers all of the topics families need to understand and prevent parent alienation. Included in this book is an interactive journal for kids.
In Session: The therapist can use the talking points in the story to engage a child in talk therapy and creative play. Therapists can use the book to aid in:
- Helping a child learn to identify feelings
- Encouraging open and honest communication
- Acceptance and adjustment
- Validation of feelings
- Interactive journaling
Our hearts can feel so many emotions. A perfect book for therapists to use to introduce the topic of emotional awareness. Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness, fear… “Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant.”
My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel in the body—using mindfulness with light, lyrical, and straightforward language. The combination of illustrations, book design, and engaging language empowers readers to speak up and identifying their own emotions.
In Session: The illustrations are gorgeous, and the irresistible die-cut heart that extends through each hard page makes this book feel like you are getting to the heart of the issue.
The book is hard to put down and thoroughly engaging. Use retelling of the story, role-playing, and art therapy to reinforce this endearing message.
Special Needs/ Inclusion:
A creative non-fiction children’s book uses fun illustrations and real photos to explain what Down syndrome is and the remarkable things that people with Down syndrome can do. Lovingly created by the mom and daughter team, Adella is like other little girls and the inspiration for this book.
She loves to run, play, sing, and dance. But some things make Adella different. One difference is that she has Down syndrome. As she explains what Down syndrome is, readers will find that things make them different, too, just like Adella.
In Session: Therapists can use this book with families who have children with special needs. Brainstorm all of the wonderful abilities each of us, has, even though we are all different.
Encourage art, writing, music, and dance to demonstrate different abilities.
Red: A Crayon’s Story is about being true to your authentic self and following your path, even if it is different. It is about overcoming obstacles that may come your way. Light, Fun, and Charming!
Red has a bright red label, but in fact, he is blue.
His teacher, mom, and friends try to show him who he really is! But Red is miserable. He just can’t be red, no matter how hard he tries! Finally, a brand-new friend shows him a new way of looking at things. Red discovers what readers have known all along.
He’s blue, not Red at all.
In Session: You can have a lot of fun with this by relabeling crayons and talking about how labels can affect how we feel and limit our abilities. Journal writing, drawing, painting, and the use of colors will help children learn that they are perfect just the way they are.
Tough Emotions/ Anger:
Everybody gets angry sometimes, even girls! For children, anger can be very upsetting and unsettling. Often girls are taught to quell their anger and emotions and avoid any aggressive-looking behavior.
Counselors, teachers, parents, and children can talk about the feeling of anger and how to deal with it by using this book. People do lots of different things when they get angry.
In Session: What do you do when you get angry?
- Draw, Write, Paint, Talk.
- Role Play different feelings.
- Use mindfulness techniques to show where we feel anger in the body.
- Teach ways to notice anger, and teach the pause.
- Alternative ways to handle anger.
Mind, Body, Spirit:
by Kira Willey
Breathe Like a Bear is a beautifully illustrated collection of mindfulness exercises designed to teach kids techniques for managing their bodies, breath, and emotions. Included in this book are 30 simple breathing practices and movements that can be done just about anywhere! At home, at school, or in a counseling session.
In Session: Therapists can focus on helping kids find calm and gain focus. Mindfulness practices can be introduced and practiced together.
Learning emotional regulation skills, breathing, and body awareness can be essential in developing emotional regulation. An excellent take-home book because it is fun, helpful, easy for parents to implement at home.
Dr. Maurya W. Glaude, PhD, MSW, LCSW-BACS
Professor of Practice | Director of Field Education, Tulane University School of Social Work
My personal reading materials are diverse and range from self-help books that feed my soul to autobiographies that help me manage and maintain a sense of balance and humility. This desire for equilibrium comes from over 15 years of training and development as an administrator, educator, and clinician.
I continue to be curious about my role as a college social work educator (and representative of the 2% of the women of African descent in the academy) and clinician, regarding my responsibility of creating access, continuity of services, social justice, healing, and wellbeing for all families, especially underserved communities.
My bedside reading materials are packed with thought-provoking ideas and themes that continue to awaken me. I find myself waking up sometimes and jotting notes in the middle of the night. These notes sometimes evolve into some of my most innovative and provocative ideas about treatment, research, and teaching.
This list of books provides tips for other mental health professionals that will also stir their curiosity and stir their appetite. My favorites are:
by Stephen R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book that I was given during a leadership conference.
This book remains a great tool because I remember to refer to several chapters that challenge me to communicate empathically and prioritize my need for self-renewal. As a clinician who provides mental health services for others, I too need to unplug and embody a lifestyle that promotes serenity within.
by Sobonfu Some
The Spirit of Intimacy is a small but enormously powerful book that changed my understanding of true spiritual connection in friendship, partnership, and community. Understanding the interconnectedness of humanity is key to our healing as a community.
by Sophia Dziegielewski and George A. Jacinto
Social Work Practice & Psychopathology is one of my absolute favorites. I have underlined, highlighted, and tabbed the pages of this book so much that it looks like a green and pink piece of art.
This is a comprehensive text that helps interdisciplinary professionals understand the importance of concurrent counseling and pharmacological interventions.
This book helps clinicians use a universal language and approach to integrate care for patients and starts in the “here and now” while acknowledging the social and environmental factors contributing to the mental health concerns.
The book really helps mental health professionals understand how pharmacological interventions are complementary to psychosocial assessments and interventions.
The DSM-5 in Action is a life-saving tool I use in my practice and one that I share with students and supervisees that I support towards independent licensure.
This book is also tabbed much like my APA DSM-5 tool and offers examples and a thorough update of the newest manual. The individualized plans of care are helpful in the preparation of appropriate treatment models.
This book is clearly written in a digestible language, and it has examples appropriate for newly licensed as well as experienced clinicians.
by D. Watkins
We Speak for Ourselves helps me remember my privilege as a researcher, clinician, and academician. This book reminds me to join communities of color and remain in solidarity with the purpose of amplifying voices that already exist in the community.
by Charlamagne Tha God
Black Privilege is a book with a solid balance of sarcasm, comic relief, and hope. Reading this story of transformation never grows old for me and helps me remember that humble beginnings do not define me and that being my authentic self is the only way to live my intentional life.
This book helps me unplug from tools about diagnoses, treatment plans, and evidence-informed interventions. When I want to be unapologetically me, I crack this book open, and I breathe in the air of liberation.
by Veronique Vienne
The Art of Doing Nothing is a book that, admittedly, I have never read in its entirety, but two chapters are especially captivating – The Art of Lounging and The Art of Breathing.
These two chapters remind me to take time to pause and to remember to breathe fully (and to inhale peace and exhale toxicity). And, the pictures! They are so beautiful and captivating, so I look at them from time to time, and I find a small piece of serenity.
Certified Substance Abuse Counselor | Founder & Program Manager of The Exclusive Hawaii | Author, “Addicted to the Monkey Mind: Change the Programming That Sabotages Your Life“
19. Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship
by Laurence Heller Ph.D. and Aline LaPierre Psy.D.
This book presents a radically different approach from traditional therapy.
The Importance of Resiliency
While the majority of therapy books focus on pathology, Healing Developmental Trauma focuses on building up the resiliency in oneself first.
To understand the importance of resiliency, think of taking a car that’s out of gas to the mechanic. Say the mechanic is looking at fixing the engine or figuring out what’s wrong with the battery. At the end of the day, if you don’t have gas in the car, it’s not going to run (no matter how many repairs you’ve made).
This is oftentimes what happens in traditional therapy. They’re looking at fixing your issues without first helping you realize how strong and capable you are. Once someone can acknowledge their resiliency, they can then move on to healing their trauma, anxiety, and other deeply-rooted issues.
Survival Styles — A Gamechanger for Therapists
Heller & LaPierre discuss the different survival styles a client can have. When you’re able to recognize someone’s survival style, you can quickly assess why they haven’t been able to change in the past and identify the best approach to help them heal.
This book offers some of the most up-to-date and advanced therapeutic techniques I’ve come across, and I recommend it to any therapist looking to sharpen their skills.
Silvi Saxena, MBA, MSW, LSW, CCTP, OSW-C
Licensed Social Worker | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, Choosing Therapy
by Susan Cain
This book is great because it challenges western cultural norms of being extraverted and highlights the importance and power of being introverted. In today’s world, there is more and more emphasis on recognizing our own ways in which our therapeutic practice is based on western cultural norms.
This challenges us to consider other viewpoints and social norms that are just as valid. It can help therapists think from a more representative lens.
by Scott Stossel
This is a great book for new therapists — its focus on the history of anxiety in the context of a real-life scenario. The author is a writer, and yet the book has a great depth into the disorder. It can certainly help therapists think about the wide range of issues that can come within the territory of anxiety.
This book is great for therapists as our goal is to always come from the strengths perspective. This book can help therapists understand and deconstruct sessions with their clients and reorganize sessions from a more empowering lens.
It ties in physiological processes within our bodies and can certainly help to bridge the gap to having conversations about medication in addition to talk therapy.
by Richard Rohr
This is a great book for anyone, but for faith-based therapists whose clientele are middle-aged individuals/those who have experienced a major life transition. It can help therapists organize how they can approach a faith-based intervention by thinking about how the client’s relationship with faith can serve as an intervention through a therapeutic process.
This is a great book for therapists in the age of the pandemic. It focuses on how to keep moving forward during uncertain times and focusing on mindfulness. It’s a great book for everyone, but for therapists, it’s the type of book that can help to fill our own cup.
by Mel Schwartz
Written by a therapist, this book does a great job at deconstructing the more traditional ways we provide therapy in the context of psychodynamic theory.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
This is an incredible story that explains the concept of trauma held in the body. It educates therapists and clients alike to inform them that trauma may not only be held in memories or words but also in physical spaces in the body.
Headaches, muscle tension, stomach aches, seizures? Those all may be signs of unprocessed trauma that the body is holding onto and waiting for an opportunity to release itself.
This is an encouraging book filled with quotes, sayings, and prompts that challenge the reader to confront the problems of the past with a new lens. The book praises the reader for their courage and conversation and inspires the reader to keep going, even when times are difficult.
This is one of the most impactful books I have ever read, but it is not for the faint of heart. This tells the story of children who have experienced unspeakable trauma and the therapist who walked with them through the toughest of times.
I highly recommended this book for those who are wanting to work with clients who have experienced trauma, as it pulls the strings of the empathic heart to allow for endurance in the therapeutic treatment.
Melissa Zawisza, LCSW-S
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Reilly Counseling, PLLC
I read this at the beginning of my career. It is filled with advice, lessons, and examples for new and experienced clinicians. For me, it made me love the therapy even more. Read it slowly, and then go back and revisit some chapters when you are having a tough day or week.
In my opinion, this is a must-read for any therapist working with trauma survivors. While I think it is helpful for those just starting out, I read it later in my career and plan on reading it every few years. It’s a great book about how individuals respond to trauma and different ways to help survivors.
On a personal note, I had some medical issues which required outpatient rehabilitation services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, educational therapy, and counseling.
I talked about it numerous times with my physical therapist because I truly understand what it meant about the body-keeping score. I even gave a copy to my physical therapist as a gift.
While I recommend all of Brene Brown’s books and podcasts, this one is excellent for an individual clinician and a clinician who is in a supervisory/managerial role. Keep in mind that it is not just for mental health professionals.
She breaks down concepts into clear, direct, and simple steps. The examples are valuable. This is a guide for whichever path you are taking.
Sonia Martin, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Writer, Choosing Therapy
32. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
by Brene Brown
Brene Brown has been an inspiration to me as a social worker. She writes from such a real, gritty and honest place, and it is this voice that makes what she speaks about relatable.
She tackles some really difficult things in a gentle way and uses her personal experience to talk about her research. Because she brings you along for her personal journey of growth, through leaning into vulnerability and shame, she makes it seem possible for anyone.
by Bessel Van Der Kolk
In his book on trauma, Van Der Kolk eloquently describes the experience of disconnection of emotion and body that trauma survivors go through. He delves into this as a protective factor that ultimately manifests itself physically.
He also speaks to the fact that trauma impacts the survivor and everyone they come in contact with and how relationships are impacted and evolve. He also breaks down the process of healing from trauma as a multi-dimensional experience of emotion, psyche, and body together.
This allows us as therapists to approach trauma from each angle together, making the practice multifaceted and more effective overall.
Speaker | Coach | Psychotherapist
The book that has helped me most in my practice is “The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy” by Deb Dana. As a somatic therapist, I’m interested in the ways my clients’ bodies and minds have been shaped by trauma and how to heal these trauma responses on a deep, embodied level.
Trauma responses like fight/flight, hypervigilance, shutdown, and dissociation can really be understood as nervous system states.
Polyvagal Theory (created by Stephen Porges) describes our three autonomic nervous system states. Dana’s book does an incredible job of breaking this work down, describing how it shows up in ourselves and our client’s practical ways of getting to know and work with the nervous system.
In the mental health field, there is a predominance of cognition-focused modalities that tell us that ‘the mind should conquer all’ and if our mind can’t conquer everything, then we just need to get our mind to work harder – but for trauma survivors, this can be tantamount to gaslighting.
Trauma responses and memories live in the body, and we cannot merely think our way out. We need body-based approaches to address the impact of harm, and Dana’s book offers a powerful framework and methodology to begin somatic healing work.
Kelsey C. Bennett, LCSW
Licensed Therapist, The Golden Mend Psychotherapy Services
I’d like to suggest a book that you may not traditionally get recommended by other therapists.
It’s an engaging fiction book that takes you on a journey through the lives of two siblings. It starts where they are in the present and gradually takes you back through time to various points in their lives. As you read, you see how the traumas they went through shaped their lives today and led them to where they began at the start of the book.
I recommend this for therapists who want to learn more about intergenerational trauma and the impact of trauma on individuals, especially children. As a complex trauma therapist, this is an issue that is very close to my heart.
I don’t want to give too much away, but based on the information that the reader has as they read, they may side with one sibling, then the other. This illustrates the more significant societal issue we have with judging individuals and situations without knowing the whole story.
Dr. Stacy Haynes, Ed.D., LPC, ACS
Licensed Therapist | Owner, Little Hands Family Services
The book that has helped me the most in my personal life and professional life is The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. In this book, Dr. Greene teaches to view children not as the behavior we often see from them but as children who have difficulty due to lagging skills when expectations are placed on them at the moment.
The book helped me in my practice to work with children and parents by teaching them to solve the moments that become difficult by solving problems. I was able to use this at home with my children, and I have found this to be a very helpful approach as they become teenagers.
Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) is the non-punitive, non-adversarial, trauma-responsive model of care. Dr. Greene and the CPS model is an evidence-based treatment.
After reading this book, I became certified in the model and now have the pleasure of working with Dr. Greene teaching CPS to schools, facilities, and parents all over the country.
Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost Your Self-Esteem“
The book I recommend the most to clients and students is “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns. It’s a good place to start to learn how the thoughts you are thinking directly cause the moods you are experiencing.
Inside the book is a chart of common “thought distortions,” which will help you catch negative thoughts as they appear.
For example, “All or Nothing” thinking or “Mental Filtering” are some common distortions that many people have. If you can catch these types of thoughts, really observe them, and eventually, change them to more positive ones, you can really affect the types of moods you’re feeling each day.
Lauren Pass Erickson, MA, LPCC, R-DMT
Somatic Therapist, Natural Embodiment LLC | Dance/Movement Therapy
Modern therapy has come a long way from the Freudian style of being a “blank slate.” As counselors, we bring our full selves into our work, whether we realize it or not.
Our professional work overlaps with our personal development, and Page’s book provides an excellent perspective on the self-reflection required to be a skilled and ethical therapist.
Page examines the concept of the ‘shadow,’ how it shows up in a therapy context, and how bringing it into conscious awareness can support our work. It is a short and accessible read that I turn to again and again.
Nina Kaiser, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Founder, Practice San Francisco
One of my favorite books, for therapists specifically and for people in general, is Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart.
This book offers timeless wisdom about both the transience and function of struggle that can be applied across life circumstances. It provides a helpful perspective and reframe that therapists can share with clients who are struggling. The main lessons can also be applied to therapists’ own experiences of holding others’ distress and struggle.
Experienced School Counselor | Award-Winning Children’s Book Author
As a school counselor, I know it is often hard to build rapport with children, preteens, and teens to get them comfortable enough to start talking when initially starting a therapist-client relationship.
These quick-read chapter books focus on friendship issues that almost every child experiences. The books are geared toward upper elementary school students and middle school students, which is rare for the social, emotional education book market and is a great resource for therapists.
The series includes He’s Not Just Teasing, Am I Weird? and I Lost my BFF.
by Jennifer Licate
He’s Not Just Teasing explains the differences between teasing and bullying and how to deal with both. This book also explains the importance of self-advocacy and the role of the bystander.
Am I Weird? Teaches children to value their uniqueness and to find friends who respect and value them for who they are.
I Lost my BFF teaches children about jealousy and rejection within friendships, and that friendships will change or end over time, but that doesn’t diminish who they are as a person or a friend. This book lets children know they aren’t alone in going through these friendship changes and encourages them to put themselves out there to find new friends.
While these friendship problems are common, if children don’t have the tools or support to deal with these issues, there can be many negative consequences, some that last a lifetime.
Often friendship issues like these bring children into therapists’ offices, and through discussing these issues, larger or underlying issues can be uncovered and dealt with appropriately between the client and therapist.
These books can give children the space to discuss friendship problems that are easier to discuss than more serious underlying issues and create the trust and a positive relationship between the therapist and client to offer support through various concerns.