1. Love Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy - by Irvin Yalom
This is a compilation of case studies highlighting the inner dialogue that is occurring in the therapist’s mind as he is dealing with clients - Yalom shares very openly what is going on in his mind - very valuable learning from the safe and effective use of self and the countertransference to the simple frustration and annoyance … Brilliant, very honest and really brave.
2. Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure - by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
The book discusses how the over-protection of the young generation in modern-day society un-intentionally led to many cognitive distortions that crept their way into young people’s mind and became like a kind of Orwellian’s groupthink - I am unique, I am entitled to, I deserve, it's my right…- and how these distortions are re-enforced by the social media and internet which helped what the authors called “consensual hallucinations”. The authors explore many consequences of these distortions like increased fragility, low tolerance for others who are different from us, and many forms of anxiety, depression, and violence at times. They also offer valuable suggestions and solutions.
3. People of the Lie: Towards a Psychology of Evil - by Scott Peck
Are there some “evil people”? Why are they behaving in a destructive way? Are they aware of the harm they are inflicting on themselves and others? Is “evil” an illness? Is it a form of personality disorder like the ones described in the DSM? Scott Peck defined evil as “the use of power to Destry the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves. In short, it is scapegoating.”
As the book suggests, as therapists and counsellors, we can’t start dealing with or “healing” evil and its victims unless or until we have the courage of naming it. Yet, naming it, in itself, is very problematic. Who has the authority to name it?
In my practice, I now meet women who call their husbands narcissists just because they refused to take out the trash or forgot her birthday or maybe got the wrong birthday gift… People are randomly throwing the narcissist and psychopath labels at their spouses, family members, parents, neighbours, and colleagues … Evil will even bear a stronger connotation if we start randomly naming it… Yet, to heal, we must name it. How can we solve this dilemma?
4. Atlas of the heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience - by Brené Brown
A must read for every therapist and even-dare I say- for everyone. Giving name to those itching feelings that rise in our heart beyond the simplification of sad, mad, glad, and afraid. There is charm in simplicity - but, when it comes to emotions, simplification keeps you on the surface. This book empowers you with the language and knowledge that allow you to dig deeper into your heart and name those feelings. It is only when we name them that we will be able to tame them.
5. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism - by Naomi Klein
Brilliant and Shocking! And, by the way, it was published before the pandemic. Let me just quote her here: “That is how the Shock Doctrine works: an original disaster [be it natural or man-made] puts the entire population into a state of collective shock […] serve to soften up whole societies. Shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect.”
“This desire for god-like power of total creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. An attraction to a kind of freedom and possibility available only in times of cataclysmic change - when people, with their stubborn habits and instant demands, are blasted out of the way - moments when democracy seems a practical impossibility.”
6. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind - by Gustave Le Bon
A classic that is highly relative to our contemporary life.The author argues that “a crowd forms when an influential idea unites a number of individuals and propels them to act towards a common goal. This influential idea however is never created by members of the crowd. Instead, they are brought into the world by minds of great individuals” - those of course are the “gurus” of our modern-day, the influencers, the politicians, the “experts”…
Le Bon sees that the crowd is psychologically organized, “the sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction and their conscious personality vanishes” - “ A collective mind is formed.” Feelings and thoughts are turned into one direction , no trace of individual autonomy. They “feel, think and act in manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think and act were he in a state of isolation.” The sense of responsibility vanishes, the effect is contagious, and the crowd starts to obey all suggestions of the so-called “great individual” - the crowd starts to form its “unique characteristics and has moral bearing”. Impulsivity and emotional thinking are main characteristics of the crowd.
In our modern-day, we can find those crowds forming the “echo chambers” - social media pockets where beliefs and ideologies are amplified and re-enforced by repetition; and are isolated and shielded from opposing arguments and diverse perspectives resulting in un-intended (or maybe intended) confirmation bias and polarization. Sigh.
7. Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes - by Jacques Ellul
Another classic. Published in 1962. Even before the age of the internet and social media, Ellul saw propaganda as a pervasive phenomenon that shapes our thinking and alter our worldview at the deepest most fundamental levels. “Development of sophisticated scientific techniques for manipulating minds along with the use of mass media for applying these techniques on the widest scale […] to effect changes in human personality.” He advised, “preservation of our freedom and autonomy will require recognizing its power.” - The question remains, how to remain self-aware so we do not get sucked up into this black hole - especially with the new technology, social media algorithm, increased life stresses, “Stolen Focus”, and all the demands of our modern age?
8. Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention & How to Think Deeply Again - by Johann Hari
The irony is that I got this as an audiobook because I don’t have time to sit and read the book - if you read my earlier blog about the “Duck” - here it is in action - our modern society is turning us all into what Rumi calls, Ducks of Urgency. We are running and running all the time unable to slow down and actually enjoy life. And, it is not a matter of simple will power or self-care practices. The problem, as Hari describes it, is much more systemic than we think.
A great read. It made me take my “Duck” problem much more seriously and start to implement lifestyle changes to slow down and take life in - Enjoy life instead of “speed reading” it.
9. Lost Connections - by Johann Hari
Another Johann Hari book. The author outlines 9 disconnections in our modern western society that pave the way to depression. Very well researched. I would add a 10th disconnection, though, disconnection from the Divine, from a Higher source or power.
10. Contemplation: An Islamic Psychospiritual Study - by Malik Badri
The book sheds light on an important worship practice in Islam Tafakkor - which could be roughly translated as contemplation, meditation or reflection. The author chooses “contemplation” to differentiate it from the Far Eastern practice of meditation. Tafakkor is a cognitive as well as spiritual practice. It engages the mind with its reflective ability along with the heart with its spiritual, emotional powers. It involves deep thinking with one goal in mind: developing spiritual awareness along with consciousness of and connection with God. As you are contemplating, you embark on a journey of discernment of the Divine signs in and around you.
11. The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life - by Melody Moezzi
Lovely autobiographical narrative. The author relates her journey, as an American exploring her Iranian roots and heritage, finding healing and restoring sanity with Rumi’s poetry. I love her honesty and vulnerability and love her interaction with her father/mentor with his gentle approach to conveying his traditional Rumi wisdom. The author takes us along her personal journey of interpreting and applying this wisdom to her everyday life. Many topics explored: mental illness, isolation, distraction, depression, anxiety, anger, fear, disappointment… and more.
12. The Diary of Frida Khalo: An Intimate Self-Portrait - by Carlos Fuentes
This is one of my weird-taste books - so, warning: it won’t appeal to everyone! Personally, I find it AMAZING!
This is the published unedited diary of Frida Khalo - what can be called in our modern-day, her Art Journaling. Although I feel it is an invasion of her privacy, I can’t help but marvel at it.
I use my journal pages to make sense of my world and create some order in the midst of chaos and I guess Frida’s diary was the fertile ground that sprouted her beautiful art that we all enjoy. Frida’s art is so vibrant and colourful, yet we know that she endured so much physical and emotional pain.
The diary feels like a doorway to the mind of this amazing artist, a peek into her soul- the aches and pain, the love, the hopes, the dreams - all raw and randomly scattered on the pages yet intimately interwoven. Maybe I love it because this is how my mind looks like - messy and randomly scattered, chaotic, confusing - it makes sense only to me - like this diary, although visually appealing, it would make sense only to Frida.