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Therapists Spill: The Books That Changed My Life

Therapists Spill: The Books That Changed My LifeBooks are getaways to far-off places you might never get to visit. Books are lessons you really needed to learn. Books are hammocks, letting you refresh and rejuvenate while the wind brushes your bare feet. Books are hobbies, letting you discover new crafts or rekindle old ones.

And, most important, books are life-changers. The kind that change your career, how you interact with loved ones or how you see the world.

Below, in our monthly series, therapists spill about the books that have changed their lives for the better.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

This book had a powerful effect on psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber’s perspective on life and love.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet had a huge impact on me as a young man because he was able to address the major elements of life, love and relationship through a poetic angle. There is such beauty and truth to Gibran’s book that I often considered it to be a beautiful version of the Bible without all the names and killing.

I remember sitting on a huge sand dune in the Sinai Desert when I was 21 years old, reading this book and meditating on its meaning in my life. I wish more people read this.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Siddhartha is another pivotal book for Sumber, a teacher and author. He also recommends the book to clients who are stuck in life’s “shoulds:” My life should look like this. I should be doing that.

Siddhartha follows the story of a young man who seeks his own illumination but everything he accomplishes never seems to be enough.

At first many people feel that this fictional book about an Indian man in the Far East has little to do with them until they start to see themselves in his journey. The ups and downs, achievements and challenges all seem to resonate at our core because the overall message of the book is so simple in the end.

Sometimes we get more mileage by just stopping, breathing and contemplating life as it passes by.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, loves the redemptive endings and hope inherent in Irving’s writing, particularly in A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Irving is brilliant with language, his wild descriptions of family and relationship dysfunction that, in the end, ring fairly true and lie just beyond the norm. There are no clearly delineated villains or angels. Instead, Irving characters are painfully, blessedly human, flawed and terrified and perfectly drawn.

On the whole, though, as bizarre as his stories are, this one in particular, the plot always sits atop an undercurrent of hope and love. It’s a joy to read.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This book is a favorite of Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of Living with Depression. She still finds it stirring today.

As a young girl, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree was a book that I read over and over again. Of course, at first I didn’t really understand its message, but as time passed I realized that it was a story of unconditional love. It still moves me whenever I pick it up to read.

Freud and Beyond by Stephen Mitchell and Margaret Black

Serani’s other favorite is Freud and Beyond, which she also uses as a teaching tool with her graduate students.

As an adult, I have to say that Freud and Beyond by Stephen Mitchell and Margaret Black is one of my favorites books because it beautifully details the origins of psychodynamic psychotherapy from Freud ‘til present time. Chapters cover many schools of thought and give the reader a great taste of theories, technique and practice.

Pig Will and Pig Won’t by Richard Scarry

This childhood book was one of two that led to a significant decision for Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance.

The two books that have impacted me the most are vastly different from one another, yet the combination of messages I received from each of them sheds tremendous light on why I became a therapist.

The first book was from my childhood, Richard Scarry’s Pig Will and Pig Won’t, which inspired me to choose and develop one of my primary modes of operation. In the story, Pig Will and Pig Won’t are brothers who respond differently when asked to help with chores and other acts of service.

Pig Won’t declines opportunities to help and misses out on the sometimes surprising rewards that come to Pig Will for choosing to be of service to others, such as feeling connected to his community, taking pride in shared accomplishments, or simply being taken out for chocolate ice cream.

At a young age, this story helped me consciously choose to take the path of engaging in life opportunities to be of service to others, and I am grateful that this decision has resulted in countless rewards and blessings both personally and professionally.

Therapists Spill: The Books That Changed My Life

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor at Psych Central. She blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her own blog, Weightless, and about creativity on her second blog Make a Mess.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2016). Therapists Spill: The Books That Changed My Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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