Friday, August 1, 2008

Reading List

Here is a set of books that can be worthwhile to read, dealing with mental health & self care issues. I think I will try to update this list regularly as I stumble upon new titles.

1) The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. An overview of cognitive therapy ideas, with lots of exercises to work through, pertinent to anxiety, depression, relationship conflict management, procrastination, among other things. Sometimes the book may come across as saying (imagining the smiling face of the author on the cover of the book): "if only you did my exercises properly or more thoroughly, you too could have a happy life". I think this is a weakness of the book--it is important to acknowledge that cognitive techniques can help, and they require a lot of work, but they may not help all symptoms, sometimes they may not work at all, the exercises often may not be pertinent, some of the content may seem trite; and the style of the book may be annoying to some. Yet I do think it is quite a comprehensive overview of some cognitive techniques, and it is worth looking at; the author validly challenges you to actually work through all the exercises with pen and paper, cover to cover, before judging the book. While cognitive therapy can help during a bout of severe depression, I think it is most useful when you are actually feeling better already, or only feeling mildly symptomatic. The cognitive therapy can help prevent relapses, help you stay well.

2) Against Depression by Peter Kramer. A very good defense of biological psychiatry. Also some interesting ideas about how quite severe depression, with its associated severe suffering, may have been "normalized" in current and past culture, in the arts, etc. It is an interesting and thought-provoking idea. I personally agree with many of his points.

3) An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison. Her other books are also worth looking at. She tells her personal story of dealing with manic depressive illness. From an interesting perspective, in that she is a famous research psychologist who has co-authored one of the major textbooks on the subject of manic depression.

4) various of the books by Irvin Yalom. Enchanting and delightful at times. Some might find him annoying. But an example of what psychotherapy experience can be like. He has a very open and liberal style (perhaps too liberal for some).

5) various of the books by Oliver Sacks. Interesting to learn about the different experiences and phenomena associated with the brain and its disorders. In this way a commentary on the human experience in general.

6) I encourage people to visit an academic library, and browse through some of the major psychiatry and psychology journals. Look through them as you would copies of waiting-room magazines. You'll get a sense of what's going on in research, what some of the new treatments are, and how psychiatrists and psychologists think. Many of the articles are pedantic and questionably relevant, but others are more readable, pertinent, and interesting. The biggest psychiatry journals are The American Journal of Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry. Another good large journal is The British Journal of Psychiatry (more of a European perspective). Journals devoted specifically to the latest medications and other technologies for treating mental illness include The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (this journal seems quite influenced by industry, but has good updates about medication treatments), The Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, and Biological Psychiatry (this journal can be very technical). There are lots of interesting journals devoted specifically to psychotherapy as well, and in the psychology literature there is a wealth of other perspectives to look at (however, many psychology journals contain articles that are full of technical jargon).

7) Read a textbook of social psychology. A wonderful field, very interesting. The textbooks are easy to read. And presents a rich body of evidence about social factors in personal psychological experience that we often neglect to consider in managing emotional problems.

8) Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub. This was recommended to me. As I scan through it I see good things. If not this particular book, I do think that at least something in this genre deserves an important place on your bookshelf.

9) The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. The author is a psychologist who has researched happiness, and the factors that contribute to it. An important subject, often neglected by the majority of us who focus on the factors that contribute to negative states or disorders, rather than the factors that contribute to health. However, the book, in my opinion, while having some good practical suggestions in it, is fairly weak and limited in its usefulness in its approach towards managing major mental illnesses. It is most useful for those who well, or who are recovering from their illness already, and want to consider some changes that could help them stay healthy and happy. It is also helpful, I think, for those who are chronically demoralized, moderately unhappy, but not clinically depressed.

10) Influence: the psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini. A useful book by a social psychologist, looking at the factors that persuade us to buy something, do something different, or change our mind. I think that being more aware of these factors -- often used in advertising or by salespeople -- can protect us from being persuaded to do things that we don't really want or need, and can therefore help us to make healthier decisions.

11) How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. So many of us struggle with shyness, or find it difficult to make new friends, or hold a conversation, etc. Here's a book that gives a lot of practical suggestions on how to approach these things more easily. I realize that many people believe a "how-to" book would not do much for them, or that the ideas in the book are things that are already very familiar or obvious to some, but I think that working through the book can only help, at least as a frame to contemplate and plan ways to make things better. There is a wide variety of books on this subject, and I invite people to check out numerous different titles--some people may need to check out numerous titles to find a book whose style and content suits them best. A search on a bookselling site such as Amazon, looking for "social anxiety" or "shyness" books will yield a nice variety to choose from.

12) Find a newspaper with a large collection of daily cartoons. Read them regularly. If you have a favourite cartoonist or humourist, get an anthology (e.g. I always liked The Far Side). A lot of other stuff in newspapers has a negative impact on mood, in my opinion, since newspapers focus on disaster and conflict in the world, rather than on things that are going well. We have to find a balance between staying well-informed and involved in debate or activism, etc. while not allowing the terrible stresses of the world to damage us. Of course, when depressed, it may be that nothing seems funny at all--and reading cartoons may just be an irritation; if this is the case, I'd advise you to give it a break until you're feeling better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Kroeker,

I think books on mindfulness, such as those written by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn--couple of which I have browsed through, can be helpful.

Research support for efficacy of mindfulness for neuroses is not as strong as CBT, but it's definitely worth a try.

I do find that my mind wonders often and it's refreshing and surprisingly grounding to reorient oneself to the present time and place.

Mindfulness is inherent in many rituals of spiritual and religious belief systems.

When I was younger and prayed regularly, I found that being in the presence of God meant more than mumbling words and going through gestures robotically. It meant being present. And one needs to be present in the moment with an open mind to see, hear, and receive what is offered--not expected.