Mental Health Non-Fiction Summer Reads

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With the warmer weather and vacations on the horizon, we look at 5 books that those in the field of mental health can enjoy — from dispatches of a psychiatrist in training to research on the Lucifer Effect to a comedian’s recovery from addiction.

With the summer quickly approaching, we’ve put together a reading list of nonfiction books for when you’re on vacation or just relaxing. Enjoy!

Committed (Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training)

Author: Adam Stern, MD

What’s it about:

As a resident in an elite psychiatry residency, author Adam Stern, MD, has a bit of imposter syndrome. In the first chapter he admits that seeing his name on a Harvard-issued ID badge is a lot of pressure and that the Match algorithm that decided where he’ll be spending his residency program might have made a mistake. Graduating from the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University he’s also concerned as his fellow residents are coming to the residency program from schools such as Duke, Yale, and Harvard. But what he realizes is that some of the other residents also experience imposter syndrome. The book gives a good accounting of Stern’s and his fellow residents’ growth as they undergo a demanding 4-year residency.

Why you should read it:

Besides getting a clear idea of the author’s experiences as a psychiatry resident, you really get a sense of how grueling a resident’s life is. The memoir almost reads like a novel with lots of dialogue and details of his experiences with the other residents, as well as from the patients he’s able to help. The Kirkus review of books calls it “engrossing, indelible, and brimming with genuine humanity.”

The Urge (Our History of Addiction)

Author: Carl Erik Fisher, MD

What’s it about:

Fisher looks at not just the medicine and science behind addiction, but also how it plays out in literature, philosophy, sociology, and religion and how addiction has been and is treated today. Fisher adds the unique aspect of telling his own story of being a young psychiatrist and having to face his personal addiction issues and recovery.

Why you should read it:

Fisher gives an intensive history of addiction — from the ancient Greeks and their philopotês (lovers of drinking sessions) to the age of temperance in the United States to the roots of modern addiction. Interspersed is his own tale of addiction and that of some of his patients. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “there’s as much history here as there is heart.”

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil 

Author: Philip G. Zimbardo

What’s it about:

The Lucifer Effect is an account by professor Philip Zambardo of his shocking 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment that put college students in a fake prison where he served as prison warden. (Just think about the ethics of that choice). Originally scheduled to run for 2 weeks, the experiment had to be stopped after 6 days as a frightening turn of events caused good people to turn bad.

Why you should read it:

Eleventh on The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list when it was released in 2007, the book looks at how some of the students involved in the experiment could be so negatively transformed and gives a day-by-day accounting of events. In addition, it dissects some 30 years of research and data gathered from the experiment as it examines the experiment’s relevance to the abuse and torture of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison for which Zimbardo served as an expert witness in the military trial of an Army colonel.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Author: Lori Gottlieb

What’s it about:

Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb goes through some tough personal times and starts seeing a therapist herself while helping clients including a cancer patient dealing with impending death, a millennial who keeps falling for bad guys, and a senior citizen looking to end her life, among others.

Why you should read it:

People magazine called it an addictive book that’s a mix of Oliver Sacks and Nora Ephron; it was Audible’s #1 book of the year in 2019 and ranked among Amazon’s 10 Best Books of the Year. According to The New York Review of Books, “Rather than feel as if we’re eavesdropping, we feel privileged to bear witness to the authenticity, bravery, caring, tenderness, intimacy, and depth of emotion we observe. Gottlieb’s patients become mirrors to help us see ourselves more clearly: the games of emotional hide-and-seek we all play with ourselves and others, the pain and joy of opening our minds and heart, and the terror and longing we feel to let our unvarnished selves step out from behind the curtain.” This book is currently being developed for a television series by Eva Longoria.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

Author: Kevin Dutton

What’s it about:

The Wisdom of Psychopaths looks at the psychopath in all of us. In his book Dutton examines psychopathic tendencies including confidence, fearlessness, and ruthlessness, that most people, if not all, have at certain levels and examines the diagnosis by mixing scientific research and interviews with the criminally insane and a successful con artist, among others.

Why you should read it:

Psychologist Dutton doesn’t attempt to depict psychopaths in a glamorous light, still, you can’t help but feel he admires some of their traits — which makes for an unexpected read as he compares charismatic leaders like John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton with psychopathic murderers. While he does say functioning psychopaths are different from the murderous type, those who have functioning psychopathic tendencies seem to almost be guaranteed success in the 21st century.

Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions

Author: Russell Brand

What’s it about: Comedian Russell Brand writes about his addictions and ongoing recovery from seemingly everything — alcohol, heroin, sex, power, fame, and money —  in a fireworks display of words with quite a few profanities thrown in.

Why you should read it:

Brand is often amusing as he writes about his 12-step recovery through the cycle of addiction and his book makes for a good beach read. He also offers points for a person struggling with addiction to ponder, such as “what issue is your addiction masking?” In the book Brand says, “This manual for self-realization comes not from a mountain but from the mud…. My qualification is not that I am better than you but I am worse.” If you deal with addiction in your practice, or you know someone with addiction issues, it can help you to relate to their experiences.