A selection of recommended Psychology books for anyone on the path to awakening and self-knowledge. These are some of the books I’ve found particularly helpful or inspiring over the years. There are longer reviews attached via links, and more to come…
Roberto Assagioli – Psychosynthesis
Believing that psychoanalysis was incomplete, Roberto Assagioli began to formulate a new set of principles, and in 1910 Psychosynthesis was born. He believed psychology should embrace the soul as well as the libido, the imagination as well as the complexes, the will as well as the instincts. This book is the manual for Psychosynthesis and sets out the principles and techniques for this transpersonal psychological system. It’s not just a theory, but a practical method for personal growth that aims to enhance the whole person. This book is packed with exercises and meditations you can do yourself, with or without a therapist. It’s a dynamic and transformative approach to psychology, and includes a detailed description of the famous egg diagram of the self – probably one of the most helpful ways of illustrating how our consciousness works. Many years ago, this book pulled me back from the brink. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Full review here.
>Related post: How to Meditate: Self-identification Meditation
Other books on Psychosynthesis that are worth reading:
Roberto Assagioli – The Act of Will
This book explores the qualities of the will in its various aspects and includes practical guidance on achieving self-actualisation through Psychosynthesis. Practical, inspiring and genuinely helpful.
Piero Ferrucci – What We May Be
A former student of Assagioli provides a detailed programme of exercises designed to bring about psychological and spiritual growth through the techniques of Psychosynthesis. Another genuinely useful book.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes – Women Who Run with the Wolves
This is one of the most widely acclaimed and influential books for good reason. It’s one of my favourite books and I’m constantly dipping in for a dose of inspiration. Women Who Run with the Wolves is the seminal work on the inner life of women. It’s a collection of inspiring stories and commentaries designed to help you contact the power of the Wild Woman – the wise and ageless presence in the female psyche. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a Jungian analyst and cantadora, or keeper of the old stories. She shows how the Wild Woman is filled with passionate creativity but has been repressed for centuries by a value system that trivialises emotional truth and intuitive wisdom. Through her stories you can learn to reclaim your feminine power and reawaken the depths of your soul. Essential reading for both women and men.
James Hillman – The Soul’s Code
This book offers a liberating vision of childhood freed from ideas of fate, character and family influence. Hillman describes the Parental Fallacy (that you become what your parents make you) and offers his alternative: the acorn theory of development. He says that everyone has their own daemon, or soul code. It’s an image that holds the essence of your life and calls it into destiny, just like the oak tree’s destiny is written in the acorn. This sees our destiny as an inner calling imprinted on the soul, an invisible mystery at the centre of your life that asks the fundamental question: ‘What is it, in my heart, that I must do, be, and have? And why?’ Your family of origin may or may not support your calling, but unless you allow your daemon to guide your life, you will always be at the mercy of somebody else’s fate.
Robert A. Johnson – She: Understanding Feminine Psychology
Robert Johnson is a Jungian analyst (the A in his name marks him out from the blues guitarist!) who has written a whole series of short, brilliant books on various mythological subjects. I recommend them all, but the two I’m featuring here are particularly useful. She explores the nature of female psychology through the myth of Amor and Psyche. It’s the story of every woman’s task of becoming whole, complete and individuated. By analysing the myth, Johnson addresses the important questions and challenges that face girls as they grow into women. What does it mean to be a woman? What is the pathway to mature femininity? How do I incorporate the masculine components of my personality? This is essential reading for both women and men, and you’ll better understand the women in your life and more about yourself as a result. A slim book, packed with insight.
Robert A. Johnson – He: Understanding Masculine Psychology
This is another slim volume, but overflowing with detail and insight. In the same way as She, this book explores what it means to be a man through the myth of Parsifal and the Fisher King. By analysing the myth, Johnson addresses the important question of how a boy grows into a man. What are some of the landmarks along the road to mature masculinity? How do the feminine components of a man’s personality fit the picture? The Grail story is relevant to both men and women, and both would benefit from reading this book. Myths are living entities and they express themselves through us. If we want to understand ourselves and each other, these myths are a good place to start, especially if we want to avoid the pitfalls of remaining unconscious.
Paul Levy – Dispelling Wetiko
This book describes the mind virus known as wetiko and explores the collective psychosis gripping our culture. The name ‘wetiko’ comes from Native American cultures who have tracked its development and spread over centuries, and refers to a wicked person or spirit who terrorises others through its evil acts. Wetiko manifests as our shadow, causing what is unconscious to manifest in the world around us: through our relationships, our obsessions and compulsions, our fears and our dramas. It’s an archetype arising from the collective unconscious and represents a collective nightmare we’re dreaming together. Levy doesn’t just hold up a mirror to our collective psychosis; he shows us how to overcome our blindness. Essential reading for these crazy times.
M. Scott Peck – The Road Less Travelled
This is a classic and hugely influential. One of the best of the so-called ‘self-help’ books out there. We all have difficulties and experience suffering in our lives, but sometimes dealing with that pain is too hard so we avoid it. That avoidance makes things worse and we become stuck, unable to grow mentally or spiritually. M. Scott Peck draws on his experience as a psychiatrist to suggest ways we can face our difficulties and shows that in suffering through the changes we can reach a higher level of self-understanding. He discusses the nature of loving relationships, how to recognise true compatibility, how to distinguish dependency from love, how to become an individual, and how to be a more sensitive parent. This book is written with great insight and compassion, and can show you how to embrace reality and transform suffering into serenity.
Ken Wilber – Integral Psychology
The goal of integral psychology is to honour and embrace every aspect of human consciousness, and this book seeks to set out a truly integrative model of psychology, consciousness and therapy. Wilber draws on hundreds of sources, both East and West, ancient and modern, to create a psychological model that includes waves of development, streams of development, states of consciousness, and the self, and follows each as it develops from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious. Wilber’s theories are constantly developing and expanding, and it can be dizzying trying to keep up, but this book draws it all together into one place and includes comprehensive tables that you can use to cross-reference and compare the various theories and therapies. A landmark on Wilber’s ever-developing Integral map.
Here’s a few Psychology Quickies I just couldn’t leave out:
Erich Fromm – To Have or To Be?
I recommend all of Erich Fromm’s books, but To Have or To Be? contains a comprehensive analysis of the crisis of modern civilisation and a detailed programme for social and psychological revolution. Be the change!
Susan Jeffers – Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
This is a classic and you’ve probably read it. An inspiring book that shows you how to break out of the cycle of fear and turn indecision into action. The book to read to restore self-confidence. Yes You Can!
C.G. Jung – more or less everything he wrote!
Jung wrote a lot, and whether you agree or disagree with what he had to say, he was always insightful and inspiring. A good place to start, if you’re not already familiar with his work, is The Essential Jung which includes selected writings and will give you a general overview.
R.D. Laing – The Politics of Experience
Laing revolutionised how we view madness and the family. In this book he shows how destructive conformity is and questions our ideas of normality. Most people have no idea how crazy they really are. Read this if you want to find out.
Alice Miller – The Drama of Being a Child
This book brilliantly dissects the consequences of repression at personal and social levels, and what causes the physical and psychological harm we do to children (and ourselves). Life changing.
Dorothy Rowe – The Successful Self
I recommend all of Dorothy Rowe’s books, but The Successful Self shows you how to live more comfortably and creatively in your own skin by understanding yourself better, freeing your inner strengths and actually learning to like yourself.
Missed any good ones? Recommend a book in the comments section below…