This month LifeWorks Staff Favorites post focused on our favorite self-care books! As staff members at a therapy practice, we’re not exempt from struggle and darkness. These are the books that our staff members have personally found moving and meaningful footholds on their journeys. Please include your own favorites in the comments section!
The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang
Health is a fragile and contestable state: what looks “healthy” might be much more complex than we assume at first glance. I often feel pressured to conceal my own struggles from the world because I’m afraid of being seen as unwell, and therefore somehow “wrong” or “bad.” In this collection, Esmé Weijun Wang writes about struggling with schizoaffective disorder (one of many diagnoses she’s received over the course of her life), but she also writes about how our current models for understanding mental health are woefully incomplete and unsatisfactory. Chronic illness, whether it manifests physically or emotionally, is never limited to a single point of origin, and The Collected Schizophrenias is purposely kaleidoscopic. Wang is educated and successful, and she devotes plenty of space in this collection to discussing how she has often used her privilege as a shield to ward off any assumptions people might make about her being “sick”. Wang approaches her life experiences with both precision and range, and the questions she poses are hard to answer, or even acknowledge sometimes: when it comes to mental health stigma, why is so much of it reserved for schizophrenia? Why do we place so much emphasis on being “high-functioning,” and what do people with chronic illness have to hide or repress in order to receive compassion or understanding?
Wang has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, because she’s willing to share how her illness has shaped her life, but more importantly, she shares how social beliefs about health and morality have shaped her experience of her own illness.
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Much like Wang’s book above, Care Work argues that the way we think and talk about care is incomplete. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha wants us to do more, and they want us to listen to people with less power, and move slower and more deliberately, because we’re not free until every single one of us is free. And getting free often means giving and receiving care that moves around and outside of institutions like hospitals, schools, or governments, because more often than not, institutions are not enough.
This book offers me hope because it’s convinced me that I can do so much more to care for myself and the people in my life than I believed I could, even if I don’t have enough money, or time, or energy. It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to fall apart. It’s okay to not know what to do. It’s important to ask and listen. If I start to ask people around me what they need and what I can do to help, that’s where we can start. That’s the beginning of disability justice. Care Work describes the disability justice movement as constantly shifting and growing set of strategies and ideas that center the lives of black and brown people, disabled people, queer people and trans people. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a writer and an organizer who has spent years working with communities in the US and Canada, and their experiences have shown them how often the people most in need of care get left behind, for the sake of progress or economy.
Power in the Helping Professions
Authored by Jungian analyst Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig. This is an excellent book for therapists, at any stage of their profession. With great insight, wisdom and humility, Guggenbuhl-Craig outlines the traps and difficulties in which we therapists can get ourselves caught. He offers not only understanding of why these misuses of power occur, but also guidance about how to extricate oneself from them. Sadly this book is out of print, but you may find used copies online. I highly recommend it!
The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images editted by Ami Ronnberg, ed.; published by Taschen
While this is not a “self-help” book per se, it is an amazing and beautiful tome. Taschen, the art book publisher, worked in conjunction with the Jungian analysts who comprise the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) to produce this 800+ page book. Each entry provides artistic images and a written commentary on the nature of hundreds of archetypal symbols. Ronnberg quotes Meister Eckhart in her preface: “When the soul wants to experience something, she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.” This book, then, through image and text, can be a starting point for your journey, a guidebook to help you delve into a greater understanding of an image from a dream or your waking life, and in so doing, experience your life more deeply.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
This book, by Brene Brown, is honestly one of my favorite books, reading through it when it was first published felt like taking a deep breath after years of shallow ones. I could feel my entire body relax as I perused the pages and encountered a ‘lightbulb,’ or ‘aha,’ moment at least once per chapter. The book is about how crucial it is to become friends with your vulnerability, and the many subtle (and not so subtle) ways we shame ourselves into living half-alive. This is a summation of most of Brown’s research and it’s an easy read, broken down into sections and even includes exercises at the end of each chapter.
Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Othersby Elizabeth van Dernoot Lipsky
About eight years ago I went to a presentation based on this book, and spent the entire hour moved to tears. This text is geared for anyone with more work than one person can do. Although it tends toward people in the helping professions, it addresses many professions where one would encounter trauma including: teaching, environmental activism, police-work, first-responders, medical doctors, ER staff, nurses, and therapists. Van Dernoot Lipsky walks the reader through several signs of “trauma exposure response,” and how they might be evidence of burn out, compassion fatigue, or more. The book offers funny little cartoons inserted throughout the text in order to keep things as light as possible while addressing some very heavy material. The second section of the book focuses on how to deal effectively with professions that require trauma exposure. It’s an extraordinary read.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Besser van der Kolk
I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on trauma led by van der Kolk a few years ago and after attending couldn’t resist this book. It addresses all of the ways that our bodies hold onto and process trauma and includes evidence based body practices to treat it. READER BEWARE: This is a book about trauma and includes graphic detail about a wide variety of traumas. Read slowly, take care of yourself, and put it down when you need to.
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
This book is an opportunity for meditation. Open to today’s date and drink in the wise and sometimes humorous reflection. Then, take it all in a bit deeper by sitting with any of the suggested contemplations that follow each entry.