Jeff Cohen, MFT Integrative Mind/Body Psychotherapy510.548.4950

Here are some books I think are valuable, along with my thoughts about them.

Wired for Love, How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship, Stan Tatkin, PsyD.

Tatkin makes a compelling case for the advantages of putting your relationship first, and gives a clear picture of what it looks like to be in each other’s care. With self-assessment tools to help you identify your attachment style, along with relevant explanations of neurobiology, he provides an essential framework for understanding your partner and the dynamics in your relationship. If followed, the ten guiding principles that organize the book, along with thoughtful exercises, will indeed provide a solid foundation for a secure relationship.

Hold me Tight, Sue Johnson

Johnson presents an effective approach to understanding and transforming relationships, based on attachment theory. The basic premise is that we are hard-wired to seek emotional connection through relationships. Johnson thoughtfully interprets the underlying dynamics of conflict in this light. She also presents an in-depth and instructive guide to gaining “accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement” with your partner.

The New Rules of Marriage, Terrence Real

A very helpful, general book for couples. You’ll get a good feel for it by skimming through the boldfaced “rules,” but it’s worth going through more carefully. Terrence Real helps explain how partners typically get stuck, and offers useful practices and exercises, summarized in the back, for improving the underlying dynamics of your relationship.

Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart, John Welwood.

Psychologically astute and without jargon, this book beautifully describes the dynamics of what we look for in relationships and why we are so easily hurt. Though the “wound of the heart” originates in childhood, understanding its presence and how it can be healed (as he shows) is the key to opening fully to love in the present. Two chapters provide a very insightful discussion on why we hold onto grievances and what it takes to release them. He includes a spiritual perspective which will appeal to some though perhaps not others, but overall this book is superb.

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman

Gottman’s work came out of analyzing videotapes of couples interacting with each other. Doing so, he dispelled common myths about what makes a relationship work. Bottom line, there is no single way, but there are common factors that make good relationships successful, and likewise common behaviors that are problematic. All clearly presented, with self diagnostic tests and plenty of examples. His more recent books elaborate this material.

Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

“The very elements that nurture love—reciprocity, mutuality, protection, closeness, emotional security, predictability—are sometimes the very things that stifle desire.” So writes Esther Perel in this compelling book about reconciling eroticism and domesticity. Smartly written, refreshingly candid, and persuasive. This book has a different emphasis than the attachment focused work cited above.

Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch

The heart of this book, in Chapter 2, is Schnarch’s presentation of differentiation (differentiation allows for interdependence, which can be thought of as lying midway on a continuum between codependence and complete separateness). I think this concept is very valuable, and while I have reservations about parts of the book, that chapter alone is worth reading.

 

Relationship to Self

A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle

While situating his work historically and addressing broader societal implications, Tolle’s central assertion is about the prevalence and constricting nature of ego states of consciousness, specifically how the ego is fueled by reactivity, fear and negativity. In showing how present awareness allows for a more expansive way of relating to ourselves and others, this is a lucid and illuminating account of how we can free ourselves from chronic negative states of mind and limiting identifications.

Going on Being, Life at the Crossroads of Budddhism and Psychotherapy, Mark Epstein, M.D.

As a practicing Buddhist and psychiatrist, Epstein writes from personal experience about the ways Buddhism and psychotherapy compliment and augment each other. He’s articulate and insightful about both traditions. This book uses an autobiographical framework, focusing on Epstein’s relationships with three influential teachers, to discuss the nature of self and identity, understanding emotions, and the primary role of awareness as a condition for change. As he writes, “the contents of the mental stream are not as important as the consciousness that knows them.”

The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron

An author of great clarity, wisdom and character, Pema Chodron offers—in all her writing—a Buddhist perspective on a value of learning to be present with whatever experiences we are having. Compassionate and unflinching, she has a highly readable, personal voice. Useful for support when facing hardship, or for general reading. Also recommended are her books When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, and The Wisdom of No Escape.

Training in Compassion, Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong (Mental Training), Norman Fischer

Fischer’s writing is so clear and straightforward that the wisdom he imparts seems practically self-evident. At the heart of this book (and Buddhist thinking) is the important reminder that in developing empathy and compassion for ourselves, “we discover that our practice (and our life) isn’t about ourselves. The closer you get to yourself, the closer you get to life and to the unspeakable depth that is life, the more a feeling of love and concern for others naturally arises in you.” This is a little gem of a book.

A Year to Live, Stephen Levine

From the book: “If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgement and dismay.” As a guide to those places, Levine explores death as a domain of the heart, and what it can teach us about living. This is a more concise treatment, along with guided meditations, of material in his seminal work Who Dies? His introduction to mindfulness meditation, A Gradual Awakening, is also good.

Bouncing Back: Rewiring your Bring for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, Linda Graham, MFT

This is a comprehensive book that explores the implications of conditioning—our learned patterns, both helpful and unhelpful—and how to take advantage of neuroplasticity, our ongoing capacity to grow, change and develop. Graham includes numerous thoughtful exercises and practices, including some to do with a partner or friend, designed to help you achieve greater adaptability and flexibility in facing life’s challenges. The exercises are paired with explanations about the neurobiology of how they rewire the brain, which is inspiring in itself to understand.

Buddha’s Brain, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, Rick Hanson, Ph.D

Hanson is adept at explaining the relationship between neurobiology, psychological and emotional well-being. The message of this book is very hopeful—by understanding such things as our negativity bias and how our nervous system functions, we can find motivation to engage practices that counteract the ways our learned defenses and innate threat responses sometimes get the better of us. This book is filled with relatively simple yet effective methods and approaches for doing just that, including sections on effective communication, loving-kindness, and equanimity.

The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist

Interweaving stories from her inspiring work as a philanthropist and activist, Lynn Twist presents a view of money with far reaching implications. In offering a deeply considered alternative to prevalent attitudes about money, she addresses not only the personal transformation that’s possible through examining one’s relationship to money, but social and political change as well. Annotated bibliography of activist organizations at back.

The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, M.D.

In this and her companion book on the male brain, Brizendine is a clear and impartial guide to the differences in structure and functioning of the male and female brains, and how our brains develop and change over the course of a lifetime. Parents will appreciate the chapter on the teen brain, and couples will benefit from the chapter on the "emotional brain." Knowledge of our biology can help us appreciate the unique challenges each gender faces as we try to be more responsive to, and understanding of each other.

 

Parent-Child Relationships

Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell

This is a great book, useful for anyone interested in self-understanding, not just parents. The authors very clearly describe the interface between neurobiology and psychology; that is, how we form bonds, or attachments, why they’re important, what healthy attachments look like, and how we can create them. They also describe what happens when things go wrong, and why mindfulness is an important tool in regaining the awareness we need to repair relationships. Highly recommended.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind, Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Dan Siegel is over represented on this list, but for good reason. When it comes to writing about developmental neuroscience and attachment theory, its understanding and importance, you can’t do better. In this and their more recent book, No Drama Discipline, the authors describe how to apply attachment theory in meaningful and impactful ways. Beyond any particular situation, doing so will not only make your job easier as parents overall, but will set your child up to feel more secure in herself, to navigate social terrain more easily, and be likely to have more secure functioning adult relationships.

Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Drawing on contemporary research, much of it from the field of Positive Psychology, as well as from personal experience, Dr. Carter writes with insight, clarity and humor about the challenges of parenting. In addition to offering guidance on handling difficult situations, like how to respond when your child is mean to you, or helpful ways to provide criticism, she suggests a range of practices that will help promote your child’s emotional intelligence and inner sense of security, as well as help create a more cohesive and enriching family life.

NutureShock, New Thinking about Children, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

Drawing on extensive contemporary research, the authors describe key aspects of child development, such as language acquisition (forget Baby Einstein), peer and sibling relations, self-esteem and honesty. Their findings are fascinating in their own right and especially relevant for parents of young children. Well-reasoned guidance (effective ways to praise, for example) and explanations of why some issues are more complex to address. There’s an insightful chapter on teens as well, highlighting risk taking behavior and arguing.

Brainstorm: the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Daniel Siegel, MD

Written for teens as well as parents, Brainstorm articulates the ESSENCE of teenage brain development—ES, emotional spark; SE, social engagement; N, novelty; CE creative exploration. In additional to describing the positive aspects and pitfalls of these attributes, Siegel teaches teens how to develop internal gauges to check their more extreme impulses. He also reminds all of us that “the essence of adolescence is actually the essence of living a vital life as an adult. Fortunately, it’s never too late to get your essence back.”

Staying Connected to Your Teenager, Michael Riera

If you’re the parent of a teen, read this book. Riera understands teenagers, the developmental terrain they’re navigating and how that plays out with you. He’s especially good at deciphering what often looks like contradictory behavior, while providing conceptual ways to think of your changing role in their lives. He doesn’t pretend it’s easy, but with plenty of well-chosen examples to illustrate his points, you’ll have inspiration for the importance of staying in relationship with your teen and a vision of how to do so.