A few weeks ago, one of my posts received a comment that was worth a whole post:

I am also a therapist (though I’m still in training). I’m wondering if you would be willing/able to recommend some family therapy books you’ve found helpful. My program is very focused on the individual and I’m trying to fill in some gaps and find your perspective on therapy to be very resonant with my own.

I’d love to recommend some family therapy books! My program was extremely family-systems focused, which I’ve been grateful for since leaving school. If you want to see an exhaustive reading list (I can’t remember having been assigned a real dud), you can see reverse-order lists of everything I read in my first year here and my second year here.

I’ll try to create a bare-bones list for you here—much more useful for you and a good exercise for me. I should warn you before I begin that I am super nerdy when it comes to family therapy reading and I can imagine many in my cohort rolling their eyes at my “must-read” list. If you are nerdy like me, though, here goes:

Pragmatics of Human Communication: A classic and profound book by Bateson’s MRI team, the first and probably still the best attempt to apply system theory to human relationships.

Susan Johnson’s books The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Trauma Survivors. Johnson combines system-thinking, Rogers-style experiential therapy, and attachment theory, creating one of my most-used therapy models.

John Gottman’s books, especially The Marriage Clinic and The Science of Trust. Gottman has taken up the project started with Pragmatics, largely abandoned by family therapy, and is doing it in fine style, with solid science.

Metaframeworks: This book presents my favorite meta-model of family therapy, combining the best parts of the many family therapy models.

A major work by each family therapy model-builder is also important reading: Haley, Madanes, Satir, Whitaker, Minuchin, Bowen, Selvini-Palazolli/Milan group, Weakland/Fisch/MRI group, deShazer/Insoo-Berg, Epson/White, and Hubble/Duncan/Miller. Keep in mind that their books are presentations of informed opinion, not science. Every one of these folks have got some things right and some wrong. They have also advanced the field significantly, and are the largest part the conversation on how to think about families.

Finally, a couple things that I was not assigned in school, but I found extremely helpful in making sense of the flood of information. First, a grounding in systems/complexity theory: Family therapists think of themselves as system-theory experts and throw around a lot of lingo that they may or may not really understand. It’s easy to get confused in this situation. The best introduction to modern system thinking is still Capra’s The Web of Life (though we’re overdue for an update). Also, check out Bateson’s books Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Mind and Nature. Second, familiarity with Wilber’s integral theory really helped me navigate the heated arguments about modernism vs. post-modernism and intervention at the level of individuals vs. family systems vs. larger systems. Check out Integral Psychology or A Theory of Everything.

Here are the books on my post-graduation reading list, in alphabetical order. Anything I should add? Anything I should move to the top? Anything you’ve read that I should remove from the list? I do not yet own the books marked with an astrisk. Also, I’ve been off fiction for six years–anyone willing to give me their top-five-or-so-fiction-of-all-time list?

A Pattern Language

A People’s History of the World, Harman

Achilles in Vietnam, Shay

An Ecology of Mind, Bateson*

Animals In Translation, Grandin*

Animals Make Us Human, Grandin*

Attachment, Trauma, and Healing: Understanding and Treating Attachment Disorder in Children and Families, Levi & Orlans

Biochemical Individuality, Williams

Clinician’s Guide to Systemic Sex Therapy, Hertlein, Weeks, Sendak

Cognitive Theory and the Emotional Disorders, Beck

Collapse, Diamond

Conceptual Revolutions, Thagard

Consciousness Explained, Dennet

Dynamic Assessment in Couple Therapy, Hiebert, Gillespie & Stahmann

Enhanced Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Couples, Epstein & Baucom

Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken the Heart and Mind, Walsh

Everyday Zen, Beck

Eye to Eye: The Quest for  a New Paradigm, Wilber*

Futurehype: The Tyranny of Prophecy*

Generations, Strauss & Howe

Genograms, McGoldrick

Gestalt Theory Verbatim, Perls

God In Search of Man, Heschel

Grace & Grit, Wilber*

Growing Old is Not For Sissies*

Handbook of Emotion Regulation*

Handbook of Emotion*

Healing Emotions: Conversations With the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health

Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust & Love, Olans & Levi

Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indians and Other Native Peoples, Duran

Healing Trauma, Siegel*

How Doctors Think, Groopman*

How the Mind Works, Pinker

How To Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People, Alford

Internal Family Systems Therapy, Schwartz

Lies My Music Teacher Told Me, Eskelin

Lies My Teacher Told Me, Loewen

Life Maps, Fowler*

Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, Robison

Love & Survival, Ornish*

Love Is Never Enough, Beck

Loving What Is, Katie*

Mad in America, Whitaker

Mans Search for Meaning, Frankl

Manufacturing Consent, Herman & Chomsky

Natural Capitalism, Hawkins, Lovins & Lovins

On Becoming a Person, Rogers

One Taste: Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality, Wilber*

Pain Free at Your PC, Egoscue

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire

Phantoms in the Brain, Ramachandran *

Play In Family Therapy, Gil

Positive Words, Powerful Results, Urban

Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy, Fromm-Reichmann

Protecting the Gift, Becker

Quickies: The Handbook of Brief Sex Therapy, Green & Flemons

Resolving Sexual Abuse, Dolan

Revisioning Family Therapy: Race, Culture, and Gender in Clinical Practice, McGoldrick*

Reviving Ophelia, Pipher

Rituals for Our Times: Celebrating, Healing, and Changing Our Lives and Our Relationships, Imber-Black*

Rituals In Family Therapy, Imber-Black*

See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Power of Our Five Senses, Rosenblum

Self-Compassion, Neff*

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Wilber*

Size Matters: How Height Affects Health, Happiness, and Success of Boys, Hall

So Sexy So Soon, Levin & Kilbourne

Story, Symbol and Ceremony: Using Metaphor in Family Therapy*

Strange Attractors, Butz*

Successful Aging, Rowe & Kahn*

Survivors Club: Secrets & Science that could Save Your Life, Sherwood*

Telling Lies, Ekman

The 12 Stages of Healing, Apstein & Altman

The Albert Ellis Reader

The Collected Works of CG Jung, Hopcke

The Dance of Anger, Lerner

The Divided Mind, Sarno

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Mlodinow

The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think, Aunger

The Emergence of Everything, Morowitz

The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, Wilber*

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Maslow

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotions in the Making of Consciousness, Damasio

The Gift of Fear, Becker

The Healer Within, Jahnke

The Inklings

The Laws of Emotion, Frijda*

The Myth of the Chemical Cure, Moncrieff

The Nature of Emotion, Ekman & Davidson

The Personality Puzzle, Funder

The Presence Process, Brown

The Problem of the Soul, Flanagan*

The Quantum Mind & Healing, Mindell

The Science of Good and Evil, Shermer

The Science of Trust, Gottman

The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature, Wilber*

The Stages of Faith, Fowler

The Therapist’s Guide to Psychopharmacology, Patterson

The Toe Bone and the Tooth, Prechtel

The Unwritten Rules of Human Social Interaction, Grandin*

The Way I See It: A Personal Look At Autism and Asperger’s, Grandin*

Theory-Based Treatment Planning for Marriage and Family Therapists, Gehart

Thinking In Pictures: My Life With Autism, Grandin*

Time for a Better Marriage, Dinkmeyer & Carlson

Traumatic Stress, van der Kolk

Unconditional Parenting, Kohn

Up From Eden, Wilber*

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Levine*

What’s Really Wrong With You: Muscles & Health, Grivier*

You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes, Love

It has been four years of sitting in hundreds of hours of lectures, reading thousands of pages of theory and research, writing hundreds of pages, and seeing clients for hundreds of hours. It has been long weeks, late nights, steep learning curves, and lots and lots of thinking. It is amazing how much learning you can do in four years of 60-80 hour weeks!  In 2009 I finished a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with a research assistant position in Sara Hodges’ social cognition lab, a practicum position at a residential treatment facility for teenage sex offenders, an honors thesis entitled “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and a GPA of 4.23. Yesterday I graduated with a Master of Education degree, Couples and Family Therapy specialization, 455 client-contact hours at the Center for Family Therapy and Looking Glass Counseling Services, one term as a counselor for the University of Oregon Crisis Line, four terms volunteering for the UO Men’s Center, a GPA of 4.19, and a “Pass With Distinction” on my final Formal Client Presentation. It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting four years.

It has also taken a bit of a toll on my health, but the major loss was in community. If you do not live in Eugene and we have not made a point of a regular visit, I probably have not spoken or even written to you much, if anything, since 2007. For that I sincerely apologize. It is not how I prefer to live but I could not seem to do this any other way. Know that I miss you. Let’s reconnect. Call me up, write, send me your unfinished song, your idea for a book, something to read and talk about. Let’s go for a walk, go swimming, have lunch, see a show. I am looking forward to it.

Couples & Family Therapy 2011 Cohort

Me & My Dad, June 14, 2011

I started reading Whitaker and Malone’s 1953 The Roots of Psychotherapy last summer, on the advice of John Miller, one of the heads of my Couples and Family Therapy program. He hadn’t actually read it, but had had it so highly recommended to him by a respected colleague that John wished he had time to read it. It was a difficult read, especially in addition to my regular course-reading, but interesting to see what looked like Whitaker’s explanation of his transition from psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the experiential family therapy of his later career.  You can see elements of existential, experiential, and person-centered therapies emerging in Whitaker, all explained in Freudian language.

My outline is quite sloppy, thanks mostly to Open Office’s awful outlining capabilities, to inserting my own comments, and to my own lack of understanding at times, but the guts of the book as I did understand it are here. I don’t recommend reading it unless you are a therapy nerd, but if you are, and especially if you are interested in Carl Whitaker’s model of therapy and its origins, I do recommend it. In less than an hour you can get the basics and decide if the book is worth reading for you.

baby photo, reading

The author, circa 1974

As previously mentioned, Nathen enlisted some help to manage his publishing empire while he is at Not Back to School Camp. Until now, the help has been pushing the publish button on previously authored posts, but with Nathen out of internet range again, it’s time to post a gratuitously cute photo of him.

His mother says he’s two or three in this photo, and that “he’s never stopped reading since.”

Our check-out at the end of group supervision last night was naming our “guilty pleasures.” My cohort-mates mostly talked about TV shows they were watching, plus some fiction reading. When it was my turn, they shot down every single extracurricular activity I offered. Not one qualified as a guilty pleasure. Here’s the list:

Reading Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology

Watching Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz

Listening to Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing on audiobook

Listening to This American Life, Radiolab, and a couple other podcasts

Recording Reanna a cover of “Got To Get You Into My Life”

Dancing every week

I think they might have given me dancing if I hadn’t tried their patience with the other stuff first. I didn’t think to say writing for my blog, which is probably the pleasure I feel the guiltiest about, but they probably wouldn’t have given me that either.

It doesn’t seem like I have time to watch TV. I don’t even have a TV, come to think of it, and I haven’t figured out how to get TV shows on the internet. I’m watching a little of the jazz doc each night as I brush my teeth, but it’s hard to imagine watching multiple seasons of TV shows, like my cohort-mates are. It would take a major shift in lifestyle. I did listen to Murakami’s (excellent) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last spring, but only while I was driving, so it took 15 weeks to finish.

I feel conflicted about my lack of guilty pleasures. I’d like to have that kind of laid-back lifestyle. I want to be more relaxed. This summer–this next four weeks of this summer–is my only even partly unstructured time before I graduate next June. And who knows after that? I’ll have loans to pay off.

On the other hand, it doesn’t sound relaxing to add something to my schedule! Plus, I like the stuff that I’m doing, and I’m working on wrapping my head around something with infinite depth. When I finished my two-year record-production program in the 1990s, my teacher Josh Hecht said, “This is a deep subject that you have scratched the surface of, but you now know what you need to be able to do. The next step is figuring out a way to do it for 14 hours a day, every day. In 20 years or so, you’ll be very good at it.” That was his lifestyle, and it made him an excellent record producer. He worked all day, had no time for non-audio entertainment, read only the two very best trade magazines, participated in only the two very best trade organizations. He slept five hours a night.

This is a path of mastery like Erickson’s 10,000 hour rule; to get good at any complex endeavor, you have to put in about 10,000 hours. Being a therapist certainly qualifies as a complex endeavor! The catch is, weeks after Josh told us how to become a good record producer, he got very ill and was forced to take a long vacation–his first vacation in decades, I believe. I think that was the point my supervisor was making about guilty pleasures; this is a demanding career in many ways. How do I master it while maintaining my health, motivation, and clarity?

One of the many perks of Reanna reading my assignments to me is that I get her editorial critiques of the writing. Academic writing is mostly bad writing, as I’ve been ranting about off and on. Bad writing can be entertaining, though, if it is read to you by a very smart editor like Reanna. Here is one example, Reanna reading Martin Erickson’s critique of the family life cycle theory:

Reanna, reading Erickson: “Perhaps the problems a family is experiencing may have little to do with the family’s deficient ability to negotiate transitions of the FLC but may rather indicate the family’s attempts at creative production and new arrangements that may be a difficult transition into which it may be difficult for a family to adjust. There are many implications of NAT in regard to family therapists. It is hoped that this discussion will spur more in-depth theorizing and research in regard to these issues and provide family therapists with a different way of conceptualizing with which they currently work….”

Reanna, aside: “It is hoped…not by the author necessarily, but, you know, it is hoped.”

Hilarious! Erickson is probably worth reading for any family therapist, but especially so with the added commentary.

The phrase she picked out is a violation of Strunk & White’s Elementary Principle of Composition #14, the most common form of bad writing in academia. For those of you unfamiliar with Strunk & White, get the book The Elements of Style. It’s funny, spot on, and very useful. Here’s the beginning of principle #14:

14. Use the active voice.

The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:

I shall always remember my first trip to Boston.

This is much better than

My first trip to Boston will always be remembered by me.

The latter sentence is less direct, less bold, and less concise. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting “by me,”

My first trip to Boston will always be remembered,

it becomes indefinite: is it the writer or some person undisclosed or the world at large that will always remember this visit?

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