September 28

Best books for mental health professionals


I look at my supervisor, slightly stunned.

She has just told me that my client has refused to continue seeing me, saying that I’ve been insensitive to his needs and that I’ve asked irrelevant questions.

That night, I go home, wondering if I should just quit social work. I peck at my food silently, wondering if I have just made the stupidest decision joining social work.

As professionals, there are those days, aren’t there? When you wonder if you should just leave the profession, since you seem to be doing more harm than good.

And whenever we want to improve, the options available to us seem to be another thousand-dollar course, another 3-day course, or another conference. We barely know how this will translate into real-life difference in practice.

If that’s something you’ve struggled with, I recommend books. Nah you don’t have to publish one, just read one.

Yes, I know, I know.

Books sound boring and dull, and they don’t seem to be the fastest way one can grow.

But books can be a constant companion that helps you to take good ideas, and immediately apply them.

Here are some of the best books.

We’ve classified these books according to 3 different genres:

  1. Understanding clients
  2. Better practice
  3. Self-care

Understanding clients

Take Heart (John Lim)

In 2014, John received his A Level results and promptly found his dreams of becoming a doctor, crushed and destroyed.

Take Heart describes the journey of a young person through the stresses of studying in a competitive society like Singapore.

It shares how he overcame the shame of seeking help, to eventually come out of the darkness of depression into a brighter, better place.

John shares honestly from the heart, and offers a good peek into the lives of clients you might have. What makes this book real is that John shares the stories of clients he’s met as a social worker, making this book much more varied in his perspective than just one man’s story.

You can get it here.

What they forgot to teach you at school (School of Life)

Quite simply, a beautiful book
Quite simply, a beautiful book

School of Life has written a beautiful, touching book. As you turn the pages, you will find yourself laughing at the sheer amount of wit within the book, and how they have managed to capture so poignantly the feelings that you feel.

Just read this.

We might be in a bedsit at university, or wandering the streets of the city at night on our own, when it occurs to us, with full force, how negligible a thing we are in the wider scheme. No one in the crowds we pass knows anything about us.

The School of Life

It’s a perfect book to give to those young adults who are struggling in the transition between school and work.

Better practice

Becoming Better (John Lim)

I sit at my table, almost nodding off to another book.

Why are social work books so boring?

What is case management in social work
Why did social work books seem so boring, and full of text?

Surely there can be something better?

Well, I thought I would be the one who made that possible. So I went off to write a book, paid $5850 to a designer to illustrate it, and thought this would be much better fun.

This book is built on the principles of deliberate practice, which explores how some of the best athletes become world-class. It’s not that much of a secret though.

People like Angela Duckworth and Erikson have studied it for a long time, and found that it comes down to two things:

As you read this book, you will get practical tips on how to improve yourself holistically, from within, to between yourself and colleagues, and with your wider organisation.

You can get the book here.

books to read as a social worker
Just look at the beautiful graphics within!

How to fix a broken heart (Guy Winch)

Guy Winch is best known for his talk “Emotional First Aid”, but in this book, he talks more about the complex issue of grief and how it affects us.

More importantly, he shares how you can get out of it.

It can help you if you’re facing a client dealing with grief from heartbreak, sharing practical strategies you can use with the client.

Counselling: A Problem-Solving Approach (Anthony Yeo)

Known as the father of counselling in Singapore, Anthony Yeo relates his experience of decades of counselling in this simple tome.

It’s simple, but no simpler than needed.

I enjoyed it for what it gave me in my initial stages of growth in social work, giving me a helpful frame to support others.

Furthermore, it gives a local flavour to counselling in Asia, as many Western theories do not easily translate well into Singapore.

Self care

Help for the Helper (Babette Rothschild)

As a student social worker, I found myself being unable to rest peacefully. I was worried that the client with suicidal ideation would end up dying.

One morning, when he didn’t meet us, I went up to his room with a sense of dread. Opening his door, I was already filled with images of him hanging from the ceiling.

I knew I had to see a therapist.

One of the immediate things the therapist recommended me to do was to read this book.

This book shares how you can ‘stay in your own chair’, and avoid being pulled into the chair of the client.

As a professional, you would be used to having compassion fatigue after listening to too much of the other party’s stories.

You might find yourself unwittingly waking up at night and wondering if you’re doing the right thing. This book will give you practical tips on how to manage this.



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