The self-help genre sometimes gets a bad rap for generic advice, celebrities with out-of-touch perspectives, or promises of gimmicky “quick fixes.” But every once in a while, a real gem comes along that’s worth reading. When I find one of these gems, I add it to my rotation of most recommended books for my psychotherapy clients. Here are the seven best self-help books that I reach for and recommend to my clients time and time again.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.

One of the unfortunate misconceptions about mental and emotional health is that it’s “all in your head,” meaning you should be able to think your way out of any problem you face. This can look like telling someone with anxiety to “worry less” or someone with depression to “smile more.” This can also look like embracing a toxic-positivity way of thinking.

The Body Keeps the Score pokes holes in these misconceptions until they resemble Swiss cheese. The book is all about the brain and body connection, how we store memories in general, how we store traumatic memories, and how healing from trauma involves both mind and body practices. Dr. Van der Kolk weaves his own findings with other research and provides incredible insight into how our brains and bodies work together.

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

While boundaries are a crucial component of all healthy relationships, few people know why they are crucial or how to set them effectively. This leaves us wondering why we feel taken advantage of by others or feeling perpetually exhausted trying to protect our time and energy.

Boundaries is a valuable resource because it explains why boundaries matter and how to set them confidently and effectively. If you’ve been curious about learning more about boundaries and how to set them, this book is for you.

Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend 

If you often find yourself in relationships (family, friend, romantic, work-related, etc.) where you feel like you are giving more to the point of feeling taken advantage of, Safe People is for you.

The authors explore the qualities in ourselves that leave us vulnerable to being in imbalanced relationships, as well as the qualities in others to watch out for. I recommend this book to anyone who describes themselves as a people-pleaser or codependent. It provides invaluable insight and practical tips for helping you to cultivate healthy relationships with yourself and others.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD

This book is for anyone who would describe themselves as a perfectionist. Perfectionistic thinking comes from setting the expectation that being perfect makes us worthy of love from ourselves and others. The trouble with this way of thinking is that we will always be disappointed because making mistakes is part of being human.

The Gifts of Imperfection sheds light on the value that comes from recognizing our imperfections and seeing them not as reasons why we fail at being perfect, but rather as avenues for growth and healing. It’s a refreshing perspective. 

The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, PhD and Nan Silver

Gottman’s claim to fame in the world of pop psychology is that he can predict whether a couple will stay together or break up after observing their interactions for just a few minutes. But this book offers so much more than avoiding the four traits that most often predict divorce (called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”).

The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work is research-based, and full of exercises, related scenarios, and helpful insights. It offers a practical approach to solving the most common conflicts among couples and presents a unique, helpful take on how to make effective compromises. This book is hands down my most-recommended book on the topic of relationships.

Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler

Not only is Fulwiler a great comedian, she is also the author of Your Blue Flame, which I recommend to anyone who is struggling to find a sense of purpose in their current circumstances. Too often, we equate living a meaningful life with one that is full of achieving milestones – so when our lives feel very “ordinary,” it can be hard to feel a sense of purpose with this mindset.

Your Blue Flame presents a unique approach to finding meaning, which Fulwiler calls your “blue flame” – and which can be found in the most ordinary of circumstances. 

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts by Sally M Winston, PsyD and Martin N. Seif, PhD

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., and intrusive thoughts are one of its many distressing symptoms. This book came highly recommended to me by several other therapists and I’ve heard very positive feedback from my clients who have read it.

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts walks you through the different types of intrusive thoughts and offers several practical strategies for coping with them. If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, this book would be a great way to learn more.

Julia Hogan-Werner, LCPC

Julia Hogan-Werner is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago. In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, she leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships, and mental health. Her book, "It's Ok to Start with You" is all about the power of embracing your worth and is available in the OSV Catholic Bookstore and on Amazon. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. You can learn more about Julia and her work at www.juliamariehogan.com/.

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