Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW ACSW Suggested TOP TEN LIST of Self Help Books

#10 Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz  

IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE that in the 1980s there was very little understanding about the impacts of alcoholism on a family. At the time alcoholism was seen as a problem impacting only the addict.Then Janet Woititz and other therapists like Claudia Black began to write about their observations of adult clients who were raised by an alcoholic. (Known as ACOA’S – Adult Children of Alcoholics) They noticed that these adult clients all shared many of the same struggles in their personal and relational lives. Alcoholism began to be seen as a systemic problem with impacts on the family that are highly predictable. Woititz work also changed the counseling profession since clients were given the opportunity to quickly understand that the chaotic behavior in their childhood families was not normal, that they were not alone and that tangible reasons existed to explain their experience. In this CLASSIC book Woititz clearly describes common characteristics of the ACOA, how they started, what challenges continue in adulthood, and offers a starting point for change. This is a MUST READ for anyone raised by an alcoholic parent, anyone married to someone raised by an alcoholic, ALL therapists, ALL marital therapists and anyone in the counseling ministry.


#9 Neuro – Linguistic Programming Workbook for Dummies By Romilla Ready and Kate Burton

Neuro–linguistic Programming (NLP) is a branch of psychotherapy that is based on the understanding that people experience the world through their senses and translate sensory information into conscious and unconscious thought patterns that impact physiology, emotions and behavior. The linguistic aspect in NLP refers to the idea that language helps capture, conceptualize and communicate experience while programming has to do with the idea that people have patterned internal processes that facilitate learning, acting and getting results.

NLP began as an attempt to explain and teach the patterns of successful individuals. Today NLP is used for performance enhancement, mental health and employee development.

I have found the strength of NLP to be in its written exercises.  Authors Ready and Burton have put together a workbook with the active learner in mind. Chapter topics include – motivational patterns, personal goal setting, challenging self resistance, challenging self-limiting behavior, subconscious communication for relationship development, visualization for emotional management, challenging limiting self beliefs, aliening self goals with purpose and value, and the power of story telling.

This workbook is a very good explanation of NPL and provides tools for immediate positive results. Enjoy!!


#8 Ten Days to a Less Defiant Child by Jeffrey Bernstein PhD

DON’T BE FOOLED by the title – dealing with a child who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder is difficult and eliciting positive behavioral change in the child takes time. However, following the suggestions in this book will bring quick results. A significant frustration for parents of defiant children is that their love, skilled parenting and investment in their child don’t seem to work. Bernstein explains in this book that parenting a defiant child takes a unique set of skills that can be learned and applied. He explains the often times misunderstood self perception of a defiant child, how to stay out of power struggles, side stepping yelling, dealing with school defiance and creating “dependable discipline”. This book is EXTEMELY helpful and will allow parents to change what at times seems like an impossible situation. Enjoy!!


#7 The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay Jeffrey Wood and Jeffrey Brantley

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the treatment of personality disorders came from a theoretical framework of delayed emotional development and psychotherapy focused on both confrontation and the management of a therapeutic relationship. The positive results of these methods are inconsistent. Later psychotherapist Marsha Linehan began to describe personality disorders as a set of problems stemming from both a low level of emotional tolerance and an inability to regulate emotions. She created what is known today as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which centers on a four part treatment focus of distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. The central practices of DBT include MINDFULNESS which is a behavioral exercise to develop the ability to be aware (and separate) of thoughts, emotions, body sensations and actions in the present moment as well as RADICAL ACCEPTANCE which is the ability to not judge one’s self and others. DBT has become a very effective and consistent treatment method for personality disorders. In this book the authors provide a clear description of DBT and provide many exercises fitting to each treatment part in DBT. This is an excellent book to use as part of therapy, groups or to use individually to provide a sense of what needs to be done to end the symptoms and cognitive patterns of these painful and stubborn disorders.  


#6 – The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory: A New Way of Thinking About the Individual and the Group by Roberta M. Gilbert

It is reasonable to say that one of the GREATEST contributors to the field of psychotherapy is Murray Bowen. Bowen challenged the idea that human behavior is an isolated act related only to one’s thoughts, feelings and youth. Bowen recognized that human behavior has more to do with how a person exists in their emotional context of people – particularly the family. “Systems Theory”, as it is known, was revolutionary because people could relieve themselves from the unreasonable responsibility of being the sole creator of their own problems. Equally important, it allowed therapists to help people end symptoms and problem behavior by changing what was happening AROUND the person.

In this book Roberta Gilbert does an incredible job of covering all of the major points of Browen Theory. Topics include – The Family Emotional System, Differentiation of Self, Family Triangulation, Emotional a Communicative Cut Offs, Family Projection, Multigenerational Influences and Sibling Position. Gilbert also includes special considerations for parents and leaders. System Theory is NOT intuitive and most everyone will have to read about it to understand how it relates to their own life. Considering the ideas in this book will help one to better understand why they act and feel as they do and how family members have contributed to current and past.


#5 Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Ann Katherine

It is ABSOLUTEY INCREDIBLE how just one relational topic gone wrong can cause so much damage. Boundary management is a behavioral consideration that comes from Murray Bowen’s theories about The Differentiation of Self. Poor boundary management will lead to anxiety, depression, anger, divorce, conflict, broken families, broken companies, lost careers, suicide, personality disorders and PTSD. The good news is that problem solving proper boundary management can eliminate all of these listed problems. Ann Katherine was the first to cover this topic in book form and has given readers a chance to regain their sanity. Boundaries is high on my list for self help books because of the selected topic and the incredible possibilities that exist if struggling people use these ideas.

#4 The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmond Bourne

Anxiety has a simple definition – FEAR OF THE FUTURE. However for something that seems so easy to grasp anxiety is extremely difficult to understand. It comes in many forms – generalized anxiety, panic, phobias, PTSD and obsessive compulsive disorder. Its symptoms can mimic depression, ADD, behavior problems, mania and psychosis. Also, anxiety is DANGEROUS – left untreated anxiety will turn to major depression, will destroy the body and cause serious health problems.

The best treatment for anxiety begins with education since understanding and normalizing anxiety decreases its symptoms. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook covers most every topic and treatment intervention related to anxiety. It explains the various types of anxiety and its possible causes. The book teaches ways to end anxiety through problem solving, physical relaxation, feelings expression, change of diet, physical exercise and medication. The most powerful section is on self talk and mistaken beliefs where Bourne explains how the anxious person thinks differently about themselves and the future and the book provides ways to change these negative thought patterns. This book is high on my list because its organization, level of information and thoughtful directives are SO HELPFUL that many people who suffer with anxiety can use its suggestions successfully without therapeutic treatment.

#3 – Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro

When Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) became available to people in the early 1990’s it seemed too good to be true. The idea that controlled eye movements combined with visualization and body awareness could initiate a self healing mechanism for trauma seemed unbelievable. Despite years of extreme scrutiny from the psychiatric community, EMDR thrived and spread to treating other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, panic, OCD, performance fears and low self esteem.

Throughout the history of EMDR the treatment protocol has been highly controlled by a therapist. Clients needed prescreening to assess readiness and the therapist followed a developed eight step model. The strictness of the procedure lead to both a well understood range of movement for clients and its very predictable process created a much needed yet unspoken climate of safety.

In “Getting Past Your Past” Francine Shapiro (The creator of EMDR) steps out of the strict EMDR procedure by providing a teaching book on EMDR that can be used by the person who is suffering. It is the first book of its kind and through its pages she essentially takes the therapist out of the picture. Self administered EMDR is explained as a possibility for people who are struggling with mildly disturbing memories and Shapiro suggests that under certain circumstances EMDR can be done alone. This book is very high on my list because EMDR is so incredibly effective and by putting the procedure in the hands of the individual, Shapiro makes a great thing even better.

#2 Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis and Patrick Fanning

Communication is a BIG topic. It is a relational necessity and can make or break marriages, families, relationships and businesses. Also, communication comes in many forms since it can be spoken, unspoken, conscious or unconscious. Communication also determines emotional health. For example, if someone is a poor communicator it can cause anger, passivity, anxiety and depression. Unfortunately proper communication it is not formally taught but is handed down to us through our closest relationships.

“Messages” is a gift to the interested learner. It covers every applicable topic related to healthy communication. Topics include – listening, self-disclosure, expressing, body language, assertiveness training, negotiation, couple skills, communicating with children, hidden agendas, Transactional Analysis, prejudgment and methods of influence. Messages is high on my list because it is a compete teaching about an extremely important topic and delivers the teaching in an organized way that will bring fast results.


#1 – Family Guide to Emotional Wellness by Patrick Fanning and Matthew McKay

Throughout the history of psychotherapy there has been an increased understanding of the POWER AND IMPORTANCE of the family. The study of child development, family systems theory and the marriage support the idea that family health is the primary influence for individual wellness, individual success and healthy communities.

Family Guide to Emotional Wellness is my NUMBER ONE choice of self help books for several reasons. First, it is about helping families recognize and change problems that may negatively impact its well being. Second – it is huge with 720 pages of exercises, teaching and resources. Third, this book covers more family topics than any other book I know including topics on couple skills, sex, communication, infidelity and anger. The book dedicates an entire section to kids including parenting skills. It also includes six chapters on addictions, seven chapters on dealing with medical problems and 15 chapters on specific mental health diagnosis and methods of treatment followed by a full section on wellness methods. This is not a cover to cover read but is a handbook for family health and an ongoing resource for the ever changing family.


Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW, ACSW is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice specializing in EMDR therapy. For contact call (616) 443-1425 or send an email to


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