Jason Seidel, Psy.D.
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From Disney to Pink Floyd; from Richard Burton to Bruce Willis; Ruth Gordon to Penelope Cruz. Themes of alienation, longing, redemption, connection to self and others, becoming lost and found.
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Iron John: A Book about Men
A classic of the "men's movement," Bly examines a folktale for its symbolic teachings about masculinity, rites of passage, and how men develop from what their fathers did and didn't teach them. Borrows liberally from the theories of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.
King Warrior Magician Lover
Robert Moore & Douglas Gillette
Another book on masculinity from a Jungian and European mythological perspective, this time examining "masculine archetypes" and their healthy and unhealthy expression.
I Don't Want to Talk About It
As with Bly's "Iron John," many men will recognize themselves in the pages of this book. It exposes the myth that men are less emotional than women; and it helps readers understand how men have been taught by their fathers and others to manage their feelings by avoiding, numbing, and outrunning them. Surprise: These tactics don't work, and they hurt men and their ability to have intimacy with others.
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Classic tale translated into dozens of languages, in which a prophet who is leaving a village, first bestows small jewels of wisdom on the inhabitants before boarding a ship for home.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Based on the prose poem of the same name, an exploration of the important stuff that lies underneath the masks which we present to one another.
Follow Your Heart
A novel in which an elderly Italian grandmother who is dying writes to her American granddaughter, offering her wisdom from the years and mistakes of her own life.
Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places
A Jungian analyst goes down into the dank, dark places to show that the point of life is to find meaning, not just happiness. A book about psychological dignity and spiritual integrity.
The Essential Rumi
Thirteenth-century Sufi poetry about love, religion, passion, drunkenness, friendship, isolation, and beauty.
The Way of Transformation
Karlfried Graf Durckheim
Back in print after a long time being hard to find. A classic, dense, philosophical-spiritual treatise on the practice of becoming a "true" human being.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
A classic book by a rabbi who tackles the randomness, unfairness, and pain of loss from a Judeo-Christian perspective.
Charlotte Joko Beck
A good introduction to spiritual simplicity, "grounded happiness," and finding joy in the mundane, written by an American Zen teacher.
When Things Fall Apart
A Tibetan Buddhist nun talks about how to go on living when we are overcome by despair, anxiety, and depression.
The Four Agreements
There are many books like this one. Ruiz comes from a lineage of Mexican healers and is a kind of updated Casteneda. He presents some ways of focusing and simplifying one's core beliefs and values in a world where one's cerebral cortex is often doing overtime in a complex world trying to "figure everything out." Here are the four agreements that he discusses: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best.
If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients
Sheldon B. Kopp
One of the tricky things about seeking counsel from a therapist, counselor, guru, witchdoctor, healer, shaman, or life coach, is the wish that we could receive from this person 'The Secret': the magic key to a life of freedom from our struggles. The title of Kopp's book (and the book itself) is a reminder that when it comes to one's sense of well-being, spiritual at-homeness, or happiness, every guru promising a way is a false guru; every pill, seminar, or book offering a way out is not the way out; every Buddha outside of your own skin is a false Buddha. This is not a pessimistic idea, but rather a joyous liberation: While there is pain and loss associated with giving up on finding the Answer, the other side of that coin is the hilarious, gratifying slap to the forehead when you finally truly feel it in your bones that you're already free: "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key."
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A manual for body-focused self-therapy. I often use aspects of this method with clients. The core idea is that we must stop all the inner chatter and running around so we can listen more deeply to the basics of what we're trying to make go away. Listening and drawing the experience more near then paradoxically makes it release or go away. Very counter-intuitive for most people, but stunningly effective in many cases. Takes practice, but it's hard to argue with the efficiency of methods that can generate deep change so quickly and with no side effects.
Getting Our Bodies Back
A somatic (body-centered) psychotherapist writes about addiction as a way that people become "disembodied" and distracted from their feelings.
Waking the Tiger
A wonderfully thorough book about how and why trauma happens, how it is healed, and even how to apply psychological "first aid" to children after a potentially traumatizing injury or event. If you have suffered trauma and read this book, it is possible that you will need to do it very slowly and carefully. Some people can be triggered a bit while reading and may need to set it down every so often to resettle themselves.
Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self
A rich (and extremely expensive) textbook that is already considered a classic on the theory and neurology of emotional development, and the attachment between mother and infant. For the advanced graduate student or clinician.
Let a reviewer of this book on amazon.com provide the synopsis for how important attachment theory is in understanding how we connect and struggle with connection: I'm analytical, Master's Degree in Statistics kind of guy... Psychology. Yea that stuff is for quacks. In graduate school I worked with enough of them...So I have one of those life altering experiences. I go to Iraq as a reservist, spend sixteen months away from my wife and job, come back to a wife that doesn't love me anymore and doesn't know if she can. PTSD, Generalized Anxiety, and Depression all in one. But other than the PTSD symptoms, all of the other things have constantly been in my life working mysteriously in the background. I go to a shrink as my marriage has fallen apart and I have no one to talk to and she brings up Attachment. I have never heard of it, so the scientist in me wants to learn anything and everything before our next meeting. I... begin... "reading my life back." I'm fitting into this mold that is everything I don't want to be, but am and jealous of the mold that is everything that I am not... This book altered my perspective on so many things. I identified with so many others. It gave me a framework and definitions for defense mechanisms..., a way to look at my childhood, and although the odds are against me being Ambivalently Attached and seeking Secure Attachment, I can now somewhat accurately "self-reflect" on my life experiences.
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The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy (2nd Ed.)
Barry Duncan, Scott Miller, Bruce Wampold, & Mark Hubble
Essential for clinicians and students who want to better understand the pan-theoretical common factors that predict therapeutic effectiveness and how eliciting honest feedback from clients to inform the therapeutic process significantly improves the results that clients experience from therapy.
The Heroic Client
Barry Duncan, Scott Miller & Jacqueline Sparks
A book challenging the utility of the medical model in helping people change. One of the first among a growing chorus of books by mental health professionals challenging the assumptions of "diagnose, prescribe, and ye shall achieve clinical change," which have not shown particularly impressive results. The authors examine the large body of clinical research and propose that therapists stop diagnosing and focus on what works: enabling people's own resources, and tracking clients' experiences of the therapy process and early signs of change to make the process more effective and more accountable. They called their approach: Client-Directed, Outcome-Informed (CDOI)therapy, which has given rise to a more recent version that we practice at The Colorado Center: Feedback-Informed Therapy (FIT).
Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences
A good introduction to Szasz, an "anti-psychiatrist." Here, as in many of his books, Szasz critiques (to an extreme) the biological view of mental illness, and favors a very strict existentialist interpretation of behavior.
A thorough indictment of the psychiatric and psychopharmaceutical establishments, even if a bit dated. Breggin is a modern "anti-psychiatrist," one of the first of the new guard of psychiatrists who've 'done a 180' on the medical model of mental illness in the past 20 years. Some of his interpretations of the research take too many liberties. Nevertheless, this book gives plenty of the early evidence (which has expanded a great deal in the past 20 years) critiquing the biopsychiatric view of mental disorders.
Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
Written by the same medical journalist who wrote Mad in America, Whitaker has been hailed by many in the psychiatry reform movement as lifting the veil on what an in-depth analysis of psychiatric research reveals about the disaster of the mental health research and treatment establishment. Readers are likely to be left feeling stunned and enraged.
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Narcissism: Denial of the True Self
Written by an early pioneer in body-oriented psychotherapy, Lowen's book is a good primer on how narcissism works in the mind and body. A little on the fringe, perhaps, but it introduces some interesting and useful concepts.
Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self
A classic in the field of psychology, read by virtually every psychologist in grad school, this is a more sophisticated and traditional description of narcissism (those who wish to go to the 'source' should check out Freud's seminal "On Narcissism," a monograph he wrote in 1914). Written by a German psychoanalyst who assumes the reader has some background in psychology, but accessible for those who are truly interested.
On Narcissism: An Introduction
The seminal work on narcissistic character development. Still relevant 90 years later.
Henderson the Rain King
Voted one of the top 25 novels of the twentieth century, and inspiration for several songs, including those by Joni Mitchell and The Counting Crows, Bellow explores narcissism in a middle-aged man who "wakes up" in an existential crisis and begins to develop a core sense of self as he travels through Africa. Analogous to "Another Woman" in some ways (see Films).
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Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe
Gavin De Becker
A security expert writes about the warning signs and dangers that parents should be aware of, to prevent the devastation of their children by adults. May be difficult to read for those who have been victimized as children.
Leadership from the Inside Out
A corporate trainer provides a Jungian approach to practicing authentic leadership, by focusing on "being real" rather than "being right;" and leadership as "who we are" rather than "what we do."
It's Your Ship
Michael D. Abrashoff
A naval commander explains how he turned a ship that was the Bad News Bears of the U.S. Navy into its top-performing naval destroyer. A breezy, entertaining business/leadership book on how the passionate use of feedback, genuine interest, gutsy delegation, and (gulp) sensitive communication fueled a huge leap in discipline, cooperation, and performance.
A Walk in the Woods
Pure silliness and fun, a hilarious travelogue of Bryson's attempt to hike the entire 2100-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Perhaps there is some symbolism in here (Amazon says the book shows "the journey is the destination,"), but mostly it just makes you laugh out loud. Good medicine for dreary times.
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Man Facing Southeast . . .
click here to watch it (length is 1:49:00, low video quality)
"Hombre Mirando al Sudeste." A nearly impossible-to-find film by Argentine magical realist Eliseo Subiela. A psychiatrist finds a new patient in the asylum who claims to be from outer space. The robotic visitor is seduced by music and humanity, and he teaches his doctor about compassion and spirit, while the doctor becomes increasingly aware of his own alienation and loss of humanity.
A film about post-traumatic stress disorder. Two people who survive a plane crash learn how to cope and support each other and return to life. Shows different ways that people can detach and drift in the world following an overwhelming experience. Not as disturbing to watch as a couple of films listed below. A bit more 'Hollywood.' Kind of like a cross between "The Fisher King" and "Grand Canyon."
A lesser-known dramatic Woody Allen film about a middle-aged college professor who overhears a psychoanalyst's sessions with a female patient and winds up having an existential crisis: she begins to realize that her life is not as she thought and other people see her very differently than she had seen herself. Also of interest, Henderson the Rain King (see Books).
Classic and moving story of depression and alienation in an affluent white family, following the death of an older brother who was the family "star." Possibly the first positive portrayal of a psychotherapist in film.
The Razor's Edge
Existential film based on the book by W. Somerset Maugham. A man returns from World War I, traumatized by his experience, and no longer fitting in with his na´ve and cynical Gatsby-esque friends. He goes on a journey to find out who he is now, and how to fit into the world.
Harold and Maude
Cult classic dark comedy about a 17-year-old boy (obsessed with death and upsetting his mother) who falls in love with a free-spirited, car-stealing 79-year old woman who teaches him how to feel and embrace life. Soundtrack by Cat Stevens.
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Extremely disturbing film (set to the music of Pink Floyd) about a rock star's numbness and psychological disintegration, resulting from a "wall" he has built around his childhood wounds that keeps him from healing or connecting with others. Emotionally violent and symbolically rich, the story shows the raw experience of an existentially berserk man: that what looks like a breakdown into madness can be the breakthrough to sanity, and that a faint glimmer of hope can emerge on the other side of all the destruction and desolation. Not for the faint of heart. A visual analogue to Durckheim's Way of Transformation (see Books).
A long, complex, and upsetting film depicting adult children (William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, and others) who are stuck, depressed, enraged, and struggling to overcome betrayals (mostly by their fathers) in their childhoods. A meditation on how people can live out their lives never being free until they break open the core issues driving their self-destructive behavior.
Vanilla Sky/Abre Los Ojos
An American remake of a Spanish film (Penelope Cruz plays the same character in both). Like "The Wall," not for the faint of heart. Another take on the gut-wrenching, incredibly isolating experience of trauma and having one's life and whole sense of reality turned inside out as if the Cosmic Record Needle got bumped and made one long, deafening scratch across the LP of your life. Trauma survivors, be warned: this is a good movie for loved ones whom you want to get in their guts how you feel. You may not want to watch it with them though. The American version in some ways is more viscerally effective.
A live-action Disney film with Bruce Willis as an obnoxious, self-important, and detached man who is too busy to realize how lonely he is (see: "I Don't Want To Talk About It" in the books section). Plays on the Christmas Carol idea of being able to see yourself only after you step out of the stream of life. Also uses ideas from developmental psychology about how we continue to have "relationships" with other parts of ourselves without being aware of it (a way of relating to the child we were that is often rejecting or dismissive; and a way of unconsciously deciding who we will turn into that our future self might be disappointed by), and that we have the power to change these relationships and our lives if we "wake up."
The Ice Storm
Set during the Watergate era, this story contrasts the seeming comfort of wealthy suburban families with the internal struggles that the teens and parents of two families are facing. Ang Lee directs this story of isolation and loneliness, the yearning for connection, vitality, and meaning, and how we can lose each other while trying to find ourselves. A meditation on parental confusion and responsibility, the grief that comes to children who are 'emotional orphans', and the dead-end of self-indulgence.
Fresh is a 12-year-old runner for a drug dealer in the projects. His father (a semi-homeless alcoholic) teaches him life lessons through brutal speed-chess matches in the park. Young Fresh has developed the hardness required to survive and plot revenge on behalf of his older sister and the very few others in his life he can bear to love. This film honors the bravery and skillful means that a young child can muster in the face of overwhelming odds. The character is a study in how detachment and coldness can become necessary, and strip an adolescent of the joy, lightness, and humanity that would have been there. Only when Fresh has completed his odyssey does the iron mask fall away and reveal the little boy underneath who just needed a single grown up to keep him safe but who ultimately had to do it alone. That single moment of grief captures so well what adults who survived being on their own as children can still feel underneath the hard exterior--and which they struggle to bring to the surface through therapy.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Anyone who thinks a black-and-white film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sounds boring hasn't been put through the emotional wringer of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This play by Edward Albee (film by Mike Nichols) stands as an all-time classic of psychological abuse and the mutual effort of two middle-aged, highly educated people (George and Martha) systematically breaking each other down to emotionally dominate and connect with the other, each from a position of desperation, inadequacy, rage, and pain. It was the only film ever to be nominated in every category for which it was eligible. All four actors won the 1967 Golden Globes for best/supporting actor/actress and either won or were nominated for all four Oscars for best/supporting actor/actress. It was that good. The film takes place between about 2am and dawn after a faculty party at a small ivy league college. A young professor and his wife are trapped with George and Martha, forced to witness and take part in their drama. Most audiences leave this play/film utterly drained. Why see it? It captures the brutality and codependency that can lie underneath the public surface of many people, and which can also disguise the anguish and grief that's even further underneath. It's also darkly hilarious at times.
This film captures what happens when you cross L.A. Story with Man's Search for Meaning. A study of the yearning for meaning, belonging, and acceptance among characters in the vapid, alienated world of Los Angeles. "Waking up" is a theme: waking up to the need for people, to beauty, to how fragile life is.
Generation Y struggles to find itself. This paragraph is from a reviewer on IMDB.com and captures much of why I've included the film here: "Homecoming is the theme of Garden State. Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff)) has been away from his hometown of New Jersey for the past nine years and returns to attend the funeral for his mother. While having been gone, Andrew has been on lithium and other forms of anti-depressant medication all prescribed to him by his psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm). Upon his homecoming, Andrew has decided to take a vacation from his medication and take some time to re-connect with himself. From there the plot grows as he connects with old friends and makes new ones and discovers the joys of life and love mostly thanks to the arrival of free-spirited Sam (Natalie Portman)."
The Fisher King
Adapted from an Arthurian legend, this film is about a shock-jock DJ in New York. In the legend of the Fisher King, a king who is responsible for guarding the holy grail is wounded and incapacitated. He loses the cup and his wounds are echoed in the ill health of the entire kingdom until a 'fool' finally returns it in a simple gesture of kindness (not knowing the importance of the act). The story is played out in the film as an example of how the ill health (cynicism, rage, cruelty) of one person can be visited upon an entire kingdom (or radio audience, in this case) leading to massive destruction that ironically can be healed through only modest, seemingly 'small' means that are deeply human and least expected. Think of The Oracle in The Matrix, with her apron and cigarette at the kitchen table in her apartment.
A violent and callous mercenary finds himself in desperate need for forgiveness and redemption for his brutality. He first wants only to run away but then experiences the path of feeling the full weight of his pain and finally being willing to receive the compassion of others, which he finds in a Jesuit priest and the indiginous Guarani of the Amazon. Based loosely on mid-eighteenth century colonial Brazil, this film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, with Robert Deniro as the Gordon Gecko of his time, and Jeremy Irons as Father Gabriel.
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