Dr. Angela's 5 Must-Read Self-Help & Psychology Books of All Time

Dr. Angela's 5 Must-Read Self-Help & Psychology Books of All Time

Welcome to Dr. Angela’s top five favourites!

Below, is a list, in no particular order, of my favourite self-help and psychology books of all time, and the reasons why. Among these books, are references I recommend to patients in my care when relevant to their therapeutic process. There is also a highly informative book on psychopathy, a topic of utmost interest to me.

Reinventing Your Life:
By: Jeffrey E. Young, Ph.D., & Janet S. Klosko, Ph.D.

The authors of this book are leading psychologists in the field. In their book, they aim to help readers identify and overcome negative life patterns. These patterns, they call “life traps,” originate in childhood, where a person might have developed them to protect himself. These however become dysfunctional, as they then continue to influence the rest of a person’s life, even when the “threat” is no longer present. For instance, a young girl, sexually abused by her stepfather, might develop mistrust towards adult males during her youth, in order to protect herself from recurrent abuse. This pattern, although adaptive for her during childhood, becomes maladaptive in adulthood, because, as a woman, she is unable to form a trusting relationship with any man in her life, even the ones that are genuinely good.

The book describes the process by which you can identify and then modify your problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Not all “life traps” apply to every person and several “life traps” may interact to influence one person’s life. But the goal is to undo the generalized application of the “life trap” in favour of a more constructive way of living.

This book is one of my favourites to use with patients in therapy. Most will recognize their patterns of behaviours in at least one of the eleven “life traps,” and then feel empowered as they slowly begin to gain control over their reactions to situations and mindfully alter the way they think, feel, and behave. This a great book to read if you think you fall into one or more of the “life traps” mentioned, but for best results, the book should be a reference in parallel to a psychotherapeutic process.

So, which life trap do you think you have?

  • Abandonment
  • Mistrust and abuse
  • Vulnerability
  • Dependence
  • Emotional deprivation
  • Social exclusion
  • Defectiveness
  • Failure
  • Subjugation
  • Unrelenting standards
  • Entitlement

Click Here to Buy

(Also available in French: Je réinvente ma vie)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
By: Stephen R. Covey, Ph. D.

I fell on this book by chance, as I was struggling to get through to a patient and was searching for a simple and useful guide that would encourage him to engage in treatment. When I finished the book, I was impressed with what an intuitive and practical resource it was. Remarkably also, it was not written by a psychologist, but by a businessman, who through years of research and experience took basic and universal principles known in the literature and concisely summarized them into a book to help people better themselves.

The seven habits are basically calls to action to make you more functional and less dysfunctional in any aspect or as many aspects of your life. So, what are the seven habits of highly effective people?

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win/win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the saw

Whether you are looking to improve your performance at work or other areas of your life or have experienced major setbacks and are trying to turn your life around, this motivational book can be very helpful. It can be applied to anything. It can help you get back on track if you are struggling to get clean from drug addiction or it can help you create a better work-life balance if you are overwhelmed by one or the other. In the end, the goal is to help you face challenges and achieve durable happiness in your life.

Like the previous book on the list, this book is one of my favourites to use with patients in therapy. It can be applied to anyone, and I have observed that it is very helpful. Thankfully, it helped the person mentioned at the beginning of this section engage in treatment and we were then able to obtain productive results.

Click Here to Buy

(Also available in French: Les 7 habitudes de ceux qui réalisent tout ce qu’ils entreprennent)

Victims No Longer:
By: Mike Lew

This is a ground-breaking book, as it is the first to address the effects of sexual abuse, specifically in men. Much progress has been made over the years, but the notion of the sexual abuse of boys is still somewhat taboo, and so is allowing men the space to talk openly about the abuse they experienced as children; a process which would allow them to heal.

Far too often, male survivors of sexual assault have a great misunderstanding of what actually happened to them. Sexual confusion, mistrust, and issues with intimacy, to name a few, are direct consequences of their abuse. This book sheds light on the long-term impact of sexual abuse during boyhood and the devastating trauma carried by men with them into adulthood. It shatters widespread myths about sexual abuse in boys. It also helps demystify and undramatize their childhood experiences and offers abuse survivors an explanation for what happened to them. This process helps men heal from their wounds.

Like the previous books on the list, I have used this book countless times with patients and have witnessed its benefits. It is definitely a reference for men who have survived sexual abuse or someone seeking to better understand the effects sexual abuse may have had on a man in their life. However, due to the emotionally charged nature of the content, male survivors of sexual assault are encouraged to read this book with the guidance of a psychologist or psychotherapist.

Click Here to Buy

Se relever d’un traumatisme:
By: Pascale Brillon, Ph. D.

Dr. Brillon is a specialist in post-traumatic stress and grief. Her book is a must-read for someone unable to live life to the fullest, because of post-traumatic stress or anyone seeking to understand the impact of the disorder on a loved-one’s life.

First, what can be qualified as trauma? An accident, a physical or sexual assault, a natural disaster, war, or any other event endangering one’s physical or psychological integrity. Second, who can be affected by a trauma? The “victim” of the event or a witness.

Post-traumatic reactions, whether, physical (e.g., increased perspiration), emotional (e.g., fear), cognitive (e.g., flashbacks), or behavioural (e.g., fight or flight) are just your brain and body sending you signals to beware of the possible threats in the environment. You become more vigilant and aware of your surroundings, in order to protect yourself from danger. This is a great survival response in a warzone or in a dark alley if someone is chasing you to mug you. It can however, become very debilitating in your everyday life, when there is no real threat present. A veteran may experience a post-traumatic reaction at a party, where there are a lot of people, loud noises, and fireworks. Certain cues from the party, may trigger an experience from the war, and cause him to fear for his life and want to flee the party. His reactions, which may have once saved his life, are no longer adapted to his environment.

This self-help book is an effective tool for every person who has experienced trauma. It will help you understand your experiences and then overcome them. The goal is to gain control over your life again and enjoy the beauty that life has to offer you. The book is its most effective if read in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Click Here to Buy

Without conscience:
By: Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.

Dr. Hare is a world-renowned leading expert in psychopathy and its research. His book, which is both informative and interesting, brings forth the cumulative knowledge about psychopathy, and explains how psychopaths operate amongst us.

Without Conscience broadly describes the twelve traits characterizing psychopathy. Dr. Hare however cautions against using the book to diagnose oneself or someone else, because extensive and specialized training is required to properly administer the Psychopathic Checklist and come to any valid conclusion about diagnosis. Believe me! I have spent numerous hours in training and practice to become familiar with the tool. It is nevertheless a useful reference to read, in order to protect yourself, because odds are that you have come across a psychopath to some degree in your life, at least once.

When the book came out in the 1990s, there was already an immense fascination for psychopathic criminals in the literature (e.g., Silence of the Lambs, Misery – which are also books recommended on this site as good reads), as well as in cinema (e.g., Goodfellas, Cape Fear). This is even more so the reality today, with every streaming service releasing a new show about serial killers or deviant criminals every so often. But not all criminals are psychopaths. Many are just products of their environment that do what they have learned to do to survive. Most of us would behave in the exact same manner if we were raised with similar backgrounds and living conditions. The psychopath, on the other hand, presents something gratuitous in his crime and level of violence. He is cold and detached. If that is not scary enough, not all psychopaths are criminals. The non-criminal psychopath is just as unsettling, but in an entirely different way. He might not be in prison, but he might be a highly functional and successful politician, businessperson, or doctor. Ruthless, manipulative, and cold-hearted perhaps. Or, he might be a parasite, free-loading and taking advantage of others for his own benefit.

Signs of psychopathy usually appear in early childhood and is believed to be a by-product of both genetics and environment. Simply stated, put someone who has the genetic hardwiring limiting his ability to develop proper emotional regulation and empathy, in an unstable and negative environment during his youth, and you have a recipe for psychopathy. Someone with the genetic vulnerability towards psychopathy raised in a loving and stable environment, will not likely turn into a serial killer. Likewise, someone with a “normal” genetic makeup raised in a violent and volatile environment, might become a criminal, but will also not likely become a serial killer.

Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to this story. To date, treatment has been shown to be highly unsuccessful with psychopaths. The first obstacle is simply that a person must want to get better for psychotherapy to work. That goes for anyone. Psychopaths do not necessarily want to become less psychopathic. In fact, many of them might not even realize that they have a problem. The second and more worrisome obstacle, is that by taking part in therapy, the psychopath usually aptly learns what is expected of him to manoeuvre in the world and, as a result, becomes a better psychopath, which is worse for the rest of us.

In sum, the moral of this story is to be wary of the psychopath and take measures to protect yourself. This book can surely help you do that. 

Click Here to Buy

***If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in your area (available 24/7 and toll free)***

  • Quebec: 1-866-277-3553
  • Canada: 1-833-456-4566
  • U.S.A.: 988
    Back to blog