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David A. Hart, MD PC

Specializing in cognitive behavioral treatments
of anxiety disorders and depression


David Hart, MD PC
 

 Self-Help Resources

This page is a work in progress. Check back from time to time for updates. 

Self-help, of course, is not a substitute for competent mental health services, but we do know that self-help is very effective for many people. In my practice, I try to combine the use of self-help resources with individual psychotherapy.

If you are already currently seeing a therapist, counselor, life coach, etc. and are interested in working with self-help materials, you may consider discussing it with them.

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Self-Help Resources

How to use self-help materials

Comments on audio books

Depression

General books about anxiety

Panic disorder

Worrying and generalized anxiety disorder

Social anxiety and social anxiety disorder

Public speaking and performance anxiety

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Compulsive hoarding

Health anxiety

Fear of flying

Fear of heights

Compulsive hair pulling and compulsive skin picking

Emetophobia (fear of vomitting)

Perfectionism

Procrastination

Relaxation audios

Relationships

Parenting

Divorce

Adult ADHD

Difficult life events and changes

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Weight loss and weight maintenance

Other books I like

SELF-HELP RESOURCES

I believe we are significantly underutilizing self-help materials in the mental health field. It is clear many people can benefit from self-help materials, particularly when they are well designed.  There are now 4 studies showing that reading the book Feeling Good by David Burns and doing his recommended exercises helps most people with depression a lot. In my practice, I generally try to combine in person treatment with one or more self-help books or programs.

20 years ago, there were only a few excellent self-help books.  Now there are hundreds. Any book or program I suggest to you is, in my opinion, a very helpful and highly recommended resource. The suggestions I make generally involve techniques or ideas that have at least some support for effectiveness in well-designed research. They are generally written by people who are expert in a certain problem or topic. They are designed not only to help you understand a problem better, but also figure out some constructive things you can do to change the problem. I have read or listened to the ones I recommend.  I do not agree with every last thing in every resource listed here, but I do think each is overall well done and potentially life changing. 

With so many self-help resources, there is no way anyone can keep up with what’s available and what is newly coming out.  Amazon.com has been a great resource because of their rating system and comments section. I look for books that have an average rating of 4 1/2 or better and that have at least 25 ratings.  I also ask about self-help materials when I am at conferences – knowing what the leading experts use in their clinics and practices is very helpful.  I investigate especially promising new materials, and I learn a lot from my clients. 

There are many good books.  I have tried to make only one or two recommendations in each category to make things less overwhelming.

HOW TO USE SELF-HELP MATERIALS

Self-help books cannot be read like a novel. Just reading the book (or listening to the audio) won’t work. Since the goal is learning a new skill such as thinking differently, mastering a relaxation technique, becoming aware of feelings, etc., having intellectual or book knowledge will not be enough.

Imagine the following scenarios: I have never skied and just read How to Be an Expert Skier. Everyone loves the book and Amazon rates it at 5 stars. However, expecting to read the book then go straight to the slopes, ride the lift, and get off and ski would be naive. Or if I read the book Learning to Knit, then expected to know how to knit, I would be naturally disappointed.  It would’t make sense to say “the book didn’t work” if I just read the book and did not practice.  The book may help me, but I have to learn by doing and practicing. People learn to ski by falling down and getting up.  People learn to knit by making mistakes and taking them out. That’s how all of us learn new things.

You likely will need to read slowly and think about how the information applies to your life. You may want to read with a pen in hand and jot down notes and underline things. You may need to practice some things before proceeding. There may be specific written exercises to complete.  You may need to reread things to make sure you understand what is being presented. With any type of learning, repetition is necessary. If you are very depressed, anxious or stressed, it may be hard to concentrate.  That’s OK, you don’t have to take everything in to benefit, just proceed one little step at a time.

DEPRESSION:

Beat the Blues Before They Beat You:  How to Overcome Depression by Robert Leahy is my current favorite self-help book for depression. 

It was published in 2010 and is available in paperback and kindle edition. For me, this is a recent switch after recommending the book Feeling Good for 20 years. Beat the Blues has a more comprehensive group of mood management strategies including cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, and interpersonal strategies. Robert Leahy shares his 30 years of experience as a researcher, clinician, and writer in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy. I appreciate his attention to not only the role of thinking and behavior in depression, but also interpersonal relationships. Here is a link to some information about the author - Robert Leahy PhD.

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Feeling Good by David Burns is still a classic and primarily utilizes cognitive therapy for depression.  There is only a little information about behavioral therapy for depression (especially chapter 5). The portion of the book that you need to read is the introduction and chapter 1-15. I have attended several workshops by David Burns. I know him to be a kind and enthusiastic person with a good sense of humor. Feeling Good is one of the few self-help books that’s effectiveness has actually been studied.  David Burns tells you about this in the introduction.  David Burns wrote another book with a similar title call The Feeling Good Handbook.  This is excellent too.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated

Cognitive therapy, behavior therapy and the combination (cognitive behavioral therapy) all have been shown to be effective for depression. 

PANIC ATTACKS AND PANIC DISORDER:

For Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder, one I like is An End to Panic: Breakthrough Techniques for Overcoming Panic Disorder by Elke Zuercher-White . 

An End to Panic: Breakthrough Techniques for Overcoming Panic Disorder

GENERAL BOOKS ABOUT ANXIETY:

My favorite general book on anxiety, which is a great starting place for almost any anxiety problem or when someone has several different types of anxiety at once (for example worrying, panic attacks, OCD, social anxiety), is Anxiety, Phobias and Panic by Rene Peurifoy. Rene Peurifoy was a teacher before he became a therapist.  I think that helps him be clear, organized, and sequential in his book. 

Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic

There is another classic I like as well – The Anxiety Workbook by Edmund Bourne, now in the 4th edition. I like Peurifoy’s book a little better because it has fewer chapters and is less overwhelming.  On the other hand, the Bourne book covers more topics. 

The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Fourth Edition

SOCIAL ANXIETY, SHYNESS, SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER:

For general social anxiety that is more extensive than public speaking anxiety, my current favorite book is the Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin Antony and Richard Swinson.

The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven Techniques for Overcoming Your Fears

A second resource I especially like is The Compassionate Mind Guide to Buidling Social Confidence by Lynne Henderson PhD. Dr. Henderson combined strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy and her 30+ years experience with strategies from compassion focused therapy.  I had the priviledge to briefly talk to her at conference a few years ago. Her very kind and skillful manner comes across both in person and in this book. This is a wise and helpful book.

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For a comprehensive multi-media online program from the Social Anxiety Institute called Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step by Thomas Richards PhD. Several years ago, I reviewed the previous CD version of the program and was very impressed. I did not review the newer version, but assume it as least as good. The newly updated online program is less expensive($159), is built upon the older version, and includes several enhancements. This program would be helpful for both people with milder shyness as well as more severe and disabling generalized social anxiety.  It is demanding and well worth the effort. The older version asks for 30 minutes a day for about 20 weeks.   Dr. Richards himself had severe generalized social anxiety so he knows about the problem from the inside out.  He has been a teacher, professor and psychotherapist.  He has many years experience working mainly with social anxiety.  My admiration and gratitude goes to Dr. Richards for creating this fine program. 

PUBLIC SPEAKING ANXIETY:

For public speaking and performing anxiety if you do not have too much difficulty with general shyness, I like Getting Over Stage Fright: A New Approach to Resolving Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing by Janet Esposito. 

Getting Over Stage Fright : A New Approach to Resolving Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing

Another resource that is outstanding and has several chapters in our area and in most cities is Toastmasters International. Be brave and check them out.  You won't regret it.

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COMPUSIVE HAIR PULLING, COMPULSIVE SKIN PICKING AND NAIL BITING:

I am learning more about these embarrassing and frustrating problems and am gaining experience working with people on them.  I like The Habit Change Workbook by James Claiborn and Cherry Perdick. This gives good and sound information about how to approach habits in general including compulsive hair pulling and skin picking.

The Habit Change Workbook: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones

Other more specific books on compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking and nail biting are available as well.  The TLC Foundation has a number of recommended books.

Image result for tlc foundation

EMETOPHOBIA (FEAR OF VOMITTING)

Emetophobia is a very common problem which is still not well-known. It can be severe.  One of the best online resources I have seen was done by a therapist in Vancouver, BC, Anna S. Christie BA, MDiv, RCC.  Not only does it have valuable accurate information and her inspiring and helpful story, it also has excellent self-help resources.  Check out this truely outstanding mental health website.  If you have emetophobia, I know the last thing you want to do is read about or think about it, but trust me, it will be worth it.

Emetophobia Resource - http://www.emetophobiaresource.org/

WORRYING AND GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER:

I have been looking for a good book about worrying and generalized anxiety disorder for years.  Robert Leahy PhD has finally come through for us. Recent research on worrying shows what some of us have figured out the hard way - cognitive therapy alone (cognitive restructuring) is not effective enough.  Worrying is like a piñata – you have to hit it from different angles and it will break.  Start swinging and keep swinging. Eventually you will enjoy the joy and peace of mind that will come once it starts to crack.  Robert Leahy lays out 7 different angles to swing from.  This book is also available in audio version. 

The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER:

My current favorite for OCD is the OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Bruce Hyman and Cherry Perdick.  The OCD Workbook has some important improvements from previous OCD self-help books. It includes good information about what family members can do to help - a critical and overlooked component of OCD treatment.  It also includes some information about newer mindfulness approaches to OCD and newer information about how cognitive therapy can enhance behavioral treatment.  Finally, there are good chapters on common OCD problems.

The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

If you would like more specific information and approach to specific OCD symptoms the following book series is very good:

Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts: How to Gain Control of Your OCD        Overcoming Compulsive Checking: Free Your Mind from OCD        Overcoming Compulsive Washing: Free Your Mind from OCD       

The authors in this series are leading researchers and/or leading clinicians in each area.   Perhaps more than any other anxiety disorder, OCD treatment is not about reading books, it is about action.  If you are not ready to take action, I think it is still valuable to read the book to learn about what recovery involves. 

COMPULSIVE HOARDING:

Two book resources I can recommend are Buried In Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding by David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Steketee and Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding by Fugen Neziroglu, Jerome Bubrick and Jose Yaryura-Tobias.

Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding: Why You Save & How You Can Stop (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Compulsive hoarding is a problem that is just beginning to be researched.  We are finding that techniques and medications that work for OCD frequently do not work as well for hoarding. Hoarding can be a part of OCD or exist without other OCD symptoms.  Classic exposure and response prevention behavioral strategies use in OCD may not work as well for compulsive hoarding.  Here, newer research and the experts in the area are beginning to point us in the direction of approaches that can be helpful.  The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation has recently created a informational web site that addresses the problem of compulsive hoarding. Hoarding Website

HEALTH ANXIETY AND HYPOCHONDRIASIS:

A newer one written by an expert is It's Not All in Your Head: How Worrying About Your Health May Be Making You Sick, and What You Can Do About It by Gordon Asmundson and Steven Taylor. 

It's Not All in Your Head: How Worrying about Your Health Could Be Making You Sick--and What You Can Do about It

Finally we are getting some good research, outcome studies and self-help materials on this common and important type of anxiety.

FEAR OF FLYING:

The are several good books on this topic.  One I like is Soar - The Breathrough Treatment for Fear of Flying by Tom Bunn. He is both a pilot and a psycholgist with extensive experience.

Soar: The Breakthrough Treatment For Fear Of Flying

FEAR OF HEIGHTS:

Overcoming Fear of Heights by Martin Antony and Karen Rowa is part of an evolving new generation of self-help books – shorter and more focused.  This is a great little book – 138 pages, 8 chapters, big print and small pages.  Martin Antony is an excellent researcher, educator and clinician from Toronto.  This is a great resource on this common phobia.  He generously made this book and several others available for free download on his website.  Thank you Dr. Antony.

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PERFECTIONISM

Perfection is often, but not always, a personality feature which fuels depression and anxiety.  There are several good books on the subject, and I have read most of them. (Guess you know this issue applies to me now).  :-)

My favorite of them all is a recent discovery.  It is not written by a mental health professional, which is one of the things that makes it so good, in my opinion. It bypasses the clinical labels, the technical lingo, and the unhelpful details. He took information from numerous sources and boiled it all down to a consice, useable, encouraging, and readable resource.  The book is fairly short (156 pages), which I think makes it better than a typical 350 page paperback.

Stephen Guise knocked one out of the park. Do yourself a favor and let him teach you How to Be an Imperfectionist

How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism

PROCRASTINATION:

There are several good books about procrastination, but my favorite came out in 2010 - The Procrastinators Guide to Getting Things Done by Monica Ramirez Basco PhD.  It is short, user friendly, practical, and to the point. Those qualities can be especially important for procrastinators.  You can skip most of the book and just read the parts that apply to you.  Even many procrastinators will be intrigued enough to read it all, however. Great book.

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RELAXATION AUDIOS:

There are hundreds of commercial relaxation audio programs available.  I’ve listened to some and my clients tell me about new ones all the time.  Some have a man’s voice; some have a woman’s voice.  Some have new age music, some classical music, some harp. Some do not have music.  Some have suggestions or affirmations, some do not.  Some have various spiritual messages, some do not.  We are all different, and finding one that you like is somewhat individual. 

I have found many have very poor sound quality (too loud, too soft, unclear) and some are surprisingly poorly produced.

Relaxation techniques are not a therapy in themselves.  They are not comprehensive enough to be a stand alone treatment for anxiety, depression or stress related problems.  However, they are an excellent tool.  I think everyone can benefit from a good “relaxation response”. One audio I like is Progressive Relaxation & Autogenic Training by Carolyn McManus.

Progressive Relaxation & Autogenic Training

RELATIONSHIPS:

To me the guru or relationships is John Gottman PhD.  He has a number of very helpful books.  One I recently reviewed in audio book format is The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships

The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships

There are probably more self-help books on relationships than any other subject - for good reason.  As people, we can all use help with people problems. John Gottman has studied relationships, what makes them not work, and what makes them work for over 30 years.   I especially like his work because it is based on research findings, not strictly his opinion or his theory about relationships.  This particular program not only addresses marital and intimate relationships, but also relationships with coworkers, friends, and siblings.  The Relationship Cure is about how to improve emotional connection with others. I would not recommend this program for finding ways to cope with very difficult or dysfunctional people, however.  The Relationship Cure is available as a book and audio download through Amazon.com, Audible.com and others locations.  Audio cassettes are available on www.gottman.com .

MARRIAGE/COMMITTED PARTNER:

John Gottman has a recent excellent 95 minute DVD called How to Make Relationships Work 2014 DVD.  Watching a hour and a half DVD is easier than reading a book for most people.  Also, it is often easier to ask your partner to watch a DVD than read a whole book. This program roughly follows his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John Gottman is an entertaining speaker with a great sense of humor. The concepts apply to all committed relationship - gay or straight. 

How to Make Relationships Work Product Details

PARENTING:

For both couples resources and for parenting resources, there are so many approaches, ideas and opinions it makes my head spin.  Most approaches have not been studied or tested.  I am certain there is no universal approach that works with all children and all parents in all situations.  Different children need different things at different times. Here are three different approaches I am aware of and I like.  Parenting involves a number of skills that most of us did not learn well growing up.  These include active listening, teaching children about emotions, disclipline, and possibly dealing with very difficult temperament children.  I think getting through all 3 of these approaches is helpful. If you are not sure where to begin, I would suggest starting with Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children to learn about emotional connection, then moving on to 1-2-3 Magic to learn about effective disclipline and limit setting.

Approach: Emotion Coaching Parenting

Guru: John Gottman

A parenting resource I like is by John Gottman - Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children: The Heart of Parenting (book), The Heart of Parenting (the audio version) and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (DVD).

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Inteligent Child Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child - DVD

Dr. Gottman teaches an approach called "emotion coaching" which I highly endorse.  Most books about parenting are about discipline.  The Heart of Parenting goes beyond the issue of discipline and has some ideas about how to create a better connection with your child.  Any parent can benefit from this program.  If severe behavioral problems are an issue, other resources will be needed, but the basic emotion coaching framework is still valid.

Approach: 1-2-3 Magic 

Guru: Thomas Phelan

For basic disclipline, I like the 1-2-3 Magic series by Thomas Phelan PhD. I suggest watching his DVDs and taking notes while you watch.  He is an excellent speaker and keeps things straight forward and simple. Of the two I will suggest here, one is about stopping obnoxious or problematic behavior and the other is about encouraging positive behavior - 1-2-3 Magic: Managing Difficult Behavior in Children 2-12 and 1-2-3 Magic: Encouraging Good Behavior.

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Approach: Collaborative Problem Solving

Guru: Ross Greene

For children with more difficult temperament, the best resource I have come across so far is by Ross Greene, PhD who uses a technique called "collaborative problem solving". (Collaborative problem solving can work well with milder parenting issues as well.)  Dr. Greene does an excellent job explaining why simple reward and punishment plans simply will not work for some kids. He has an excellent introductory VHS video called The Explosive and Noncompliant Child which is available at the Corvallis Public Library, but is unfortunately no longer published.  Used copies are available through Amazon.  His book, The Explosive Child, is about to come out in its third edition in 2010.

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DIVORCE:

There are many books about divorce available.  I have not investigated them in detail.  The best that I have come across that has universally been given good reviews when I recommend it to my clients is Coming Apart: Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours by Daphne Rose Kingma.

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ADULT ADHD:

The are many new books about ADHD in adults.  I find may of the popular ones are good at explaining the problem and short on what you can do about it.  The best I have found so far that both explains the problem and talks in detail about what can be done about it (besides relying exclusively on medication) is Understand Your Brain, Get More Done - The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook by Ari Tuckman PsyD.  The authors older book More Attention, Less Deficit is excellent too.

Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook

In addition , Ari Tuckman has a series of short (about 10 minutes each) podcasts available for download on iTunes.  The oldest podcasts done in 2009 are the best one for understanding what executive functions are, what happens when you are not good at them, and what to do about it. 

STRESSFUL LIFE EVENTS:

I have been looking for a good book about how to handle difficult life events for some time.  Divorce, illness, job loss, financial set back, bankruptcy, etc. will be in the cards for many of us - change will be in the cards for all of us. MJ Ryan has come through with an outstanding resource on dealing with changes both big and small.  The principles she lays out apply to adjusting to all changes, however more of the examples in the book relate to coping with career and financial events than with divorce.  She is one of my current favorite self-help/personal-growth authors.  I find her work encouraging, uplifting and practical.  Her book AdaptAbility: How to Survive the Change You Didn't Ask For is available in hardcover and as an audiobook.

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GENERAL BOOKS ABOUT ACT:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT is a type of behavior therapy that is becoming increasingly popular and informs a significant part of what I do as a therapist.  I have had several people ask what they would suggest reading if they would like to better understand ACT and how to apply it in their life.  Since ACT is trendy and gaining in popularity, there are dozens of new self-help books and more on the way.  My current favorite for getting a general overview on ACT is The Happiness Trap: How to Start Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris.  I especially like Chapter 13, Staring Down Demons, and Part III of his book about Creating a Life Worth Living.

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WEIGHT LOSS AND WEIGHT MAINTENANCE:

The Beck Institute lead by Judith Beck have made the best weight loss materials I have found.  This is not a specific diet, but is critical steps to take to succeed with any reasonable healthy diet.  Their outcome studies are good - people who lose weight without the program tend to gain it back, people who lose weight with the program tend to keep it off.  They address the psychological root causes of over-eating in straightforward, practical, and helpful ways.  The 2007 program is effective.  Their more recent books have expanded on and improved the original workbook. 

The two books I suggest are first The Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook and second The Diet Trap Solution. If you are serious about losing weight and keeping it off, read both books and do everything they suggest. Be patient. It will be worth it.

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OTHER SELF-HELP BOOKS I LIKE:

The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner is in my opinion one of the best self-help books ever written. By the way, men will also benefit greatly from this one. It is available in paperback and in audiobook.

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Embracing Uncertainty: Breakthrough Methods for Finding Peace of Mind When Facing the Unknown by Susan Jeffers cuts to the issue which is very often a core part of anxiety.  This book has a spiritual bent, but the strategies are so good and her ideas so wise, I think you will benefit even if you don't 100% see eye-to-eye with her on spiritual matters or you do not have a spiritual bone in your body.

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MJ Ryan wrote a great little book about how to make any change in your life.  It applies to changing habits, moods, interpersonal patterns, really anything.  She has boiled down a tremendous amount of research and wisdom about how to change in one little book that is practical, uplifting, and encouraging.  In many ways, I think it would be good to read this one before embarking on any personal growth, habit change or psychotheraputic journey. The title is This Year I Will...:How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True.

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Loving Yourself: Four Steps to a Happier You by Daphne Rose Kingma is a very sweet little (short) book about self-love.  Some people find it a little too sweet and not scientific enough.  I find it to be very insightful and wise as well as very straight forward and practical.  It's the kind of book you could read again and again.

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COMMENTS ON AUDIOBOOKS:

Increasingly, good materials are available in audio format.  Many people (including myself) don't enjoy reading, read slowly, and/or have difficulty reading. Having an audio option is a big help. There are two types of audio books - unabridged and abridged. Unabridged books are read word for word from the original book.  A typical unabridged self-help audio book is about 9 hours long.  Abridged books are shortened versions edited for audio format.  Typical abridged self-help audio books are 3-6 hours long.  Where there is a choice, I recommend the shorter abridged version - there will be more than enough to work with and all the important points are preserved.  Another distinction in audio books is who reads the book - the author or a professional reader.  After listening to many books of this type, I can clearly say that hearing the author read their own work is much better than listening to a professional reader.  Tone of voice and emotion in tone of voice has as much information as the content of the writing.  I find too much is lost when the author does not read their own work. 

 

 

 
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