Therapists on Therapists: Five Nonfiction Books

The following five nonfiction books feature therapists writing about the process of therapy—in other words, therapists on therapists.

I. Letters to a Young Therapist: Stories of Hope and Healing (originally 2003; paperback 2016) by Mary Pipher. 

Publishers Weekly: “Even the most cynical psych snob will find that visit-a series of seasonally themed letters to a fictional graduate student describing psychotherapy from the inside out-refreshing, informative and insightful.”

Sample quotes:

Writers and therapists live twice – first when they experience events and a second time when they use them in their work.

Therapy isn’t Radio. We don’t need to constantly fill the air with sounds. Sometimes, when its quiet, surprising things happen.

II. The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients (2017) by Irvin Yalom.

Psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom has written many books regarding therapy, but this is one of his most recent and most educational regarding both sides of the couch.

Sample quotes:

Life as a therapist is a life of service in which we daily transcend our personal wishes and turn our gaze toward the needs and growth of the other. We take pleasure not only in the growth of our patient but also in the ripple effect—the salutary influence our patients have upon those whom they touch in life.

If you make a mistake, admit it. Any attempt at cover-up will ultimately backfire. At some level the patient will sense you are acting in bad faith, and therapy will suffer. Furthermore, an open admission of error is good model-setting for patients and another sign that they matter to you.

Sometimes I simply remind patients that sooner or later they will have to relinquish the goal of having a better past.

III. On Being a Therapist (Fifth and final Edition, 2017) by Jeffrey Kottler.  

From the publisher’s blurb:

For more than thirty years, On Being a Therapist has inspired generations of mental health professionals to explore the most private and sacred aspects of their work helping others. In this thoroughly revised and updated fifth edition, Jeffrey Kottler explores many of the challenges that therapists face in their practices today, including pressures from increased technology, economic realities, and advances in theory and technique.

IV. When Therapists Cry: Reflections on Therapists’ Tears in Therapy (2017) by Amy Blume-Marcovici.

In addition to psychologist Blume-Marcovici, various other contributors comment not only on therapists crying but also on expressing other unexpected-from-shrinks emotions.

As therapist Julia Fraga writes (The Cut), “One study found that 72 percent of therapists have cried in session, suggesting that tears are the norm rather than the exception.”

From Blume-Marcovici (via Fraga): “I believe that the stigma associated with therapists’ tears comes in part from misunderstanding what they express. We often associate tears with weakness, lack of control, and a lack of professionalism, instead of understanding that they can be an expression of grief or an empathic response to the pain we see in others.”

V. Why Don’t Psychotherapists Laugh?: Enjoyment and the Consulting Room (2016) by Ann Shearer.

While I find this premise foreign myself, I do recognize that many therapists are humor-challenged, whether on purpose or innately.

According to the publisher, “Why Don’t Psychotherapists Laugh? is the first book of its kind about a neglected and even taboo topic: the place of enjoyment and good humour in psychotherapy.”

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