Review: Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection by Deb Dana

I keep hearing about Polyvagal Theory and keep meaning to learn more. I haven’t had a chance so I decided to start with this book, which I think is a good choice. In the beginning of the book, Dana goes over the basic theory before diving into the exercises. In fact, the main tenets of Polyvagal Theory are in the BASIC acronym – Befriend, Attend, Shape, Integrate and Connect.

Polyvagal Theory gives us a hierarchy to the autonomous nervous system. At the lowest point, we are in the dorsal vagal system, which is characterized by immobilization (the freeze response); next is the sympathetic nervous system, which most of us know is characterized by mobilization, specifically the fight or flight response. Lastly comes the ventral vagal system, characterized by social engagement and wellbeing. The purpose of Polyvagal theory and these exercises is to help our clients move from the freeze-fight-flight states into a more constructive state of wellbeing.

What I really like about this book is that you could use these exercises with your clients (or even just one of them) even if you don’t know a lot about Polyvagal Theory, or even if it is not your general operating theory. Most of us are fairly eclectic in our approaches these days but we ALL have clients who go into fight or flight or even freeze, and knowing specific exercises to practice with them is always helpful.

Lastly, there is a huge appendix. There are some progress charts; but also, there is additional copies of all of the exercises. While each exercise was discussed in the body of the book, there are additional copies in the back so that you can copy them to distribute to your clients. Overall, I may not become a Polyvagal Theory expert, but the theory makes sense and I can see myself using many of these exercises with clients. It would be a good book to have on hand so that the exercises could be used as issues come up in session.

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made from this link.

Review: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzer

I’ve heard my best friend sing the praises of this book for some time now. I guess I thought it was more of a business leadership book (it is that also). But now that I’ve read it I think it’s a “must have” book for both therapists and clients. This is literally the best book on communication that I’ve ever read. They give lots of relationship examples in addition to business examples. We communicate. with everyone we come in contact with – so yes, this works if you are in business, but it also works if you’re a stay at home mom trying to communicate with your kids or partner – and everyone in between.

Basically, a conversation becomes crucial whenever you are having a difference of opinion with someone that is causing emotions to run high. Sounds familiar right? We all have those! They start with asking you to work on yourself. Do you know what you want and what you don’t want? The want is usually easy – I go into a conversation knowing what I want. But what about what I don’t want? I want to achieve my outcome, but I don’t wan’t to have a fight, become estranged or end up hating each other. We so often forget that we need to find a way to talk about what we want without endangering the relationship.

The authors talk about how to recognize when safety has been lost in a conversation, because people will stop talking or start fighting when they don’t feel safe. They teach you how to restore the safety of the conversation so that you can get back to the topic at hand. They talk about the stories we tell ourselves in these situations and the assumptions that we make that can take a conversation off track. And they teach you how to be persuasive without being abrasive.

They then move to the other person and teach how to continue a productive conversation when the other person isn’t managing it well, either retreating into silence or blowing up. They talk about how to make sure that what is decided in the conversation actually turns into results and action. And finally, they give a whole bunch of examples of situations you might run into that would be challenging.

I honestly think every single one of my couples should read this book before we even start therapy, because it would just give us a solid foundation to start with. I can’t think of a single person who would not benefit from this book. Buy it, read it, and go forth to have better conversations!

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from each purchase.

Review: Helping Couples by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott/Dr. David Olson

I was super excited about this book — actually so excited that I reached out to them to see if they’d send me a free copy for my review and they did! Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott have a marriage assessment test called SYMBIS, based on their book “Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts”; and Dr. David Olson is the designer of the marriage assessment called Prepare-Enrich. They also have a website,, associated with this book. First, I think it’s totally cool that even though most people would see these as competing assessments, these professionals just see that the world needs MORE marriage help than ever, and we can’t be competing in this endeavor. I personally am certified to do both Prepare-Enrich and SYMBIS with couples. I can never decide which I like better, so I usually end up just having people take both! And most of my couples love taking both, because they are a little different and there’s so much value in each one.

If you’re familiar with either of these assessments or these authors, you might note that they are technically Christian authors. However, there is nothing inherently Christian about this particular book. In addition, the assessments are geared somewhat towards a religious audience, but I use them with all kinds of couples, and the fact that there are some spiritual questions has never been an issue. You can find the SYMBIS at, and Prepare-Enrich at I highly recommend getting certified in these assessments if you are a counselor.

Now to this book. My only complaint is that I wanted more, but to be fair, they did say in the introduction that this was not an exhaustive book on marriage; but they hit all the high points. And in fact, I think this is a great book to have around as kind of a “top-level” reference guide for therapists and counselors. My favorite thing about the book is all the science and statistics, because I find that statistics resonate particularly well for men. Couples like to know we are not just guessing but that we have some science to back up our thoughts and interventions. And people are much more likely to do things or stop doing things if they know the cost. For example, if I tell a couple that “the odds of divorce for couples who have monthly date nights is 30% lower than those who hardly ever go out” (page 98), I think they are more likely to actually do it than if I just say “date nights are good for you”.

This little book (I read it in two hours) covers all of the basics, gives a ton of good statistics, and is just a great reminder of some of the most important points to helping couples. If you help couples you know that it’s so easy to get lost in the weeds – there’s so much going on! But if you make sure you hit the points in this book, you will be on your way for sure. And you can always delve much deeper into any of the topics with these authors’ other books. I would definitely recommend having this on your shelf for quick reference if you are a therapist or coach working with couples.

The above link is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made with this link.

Review: Sometimes Therapy is Awkward by Nicole Arzt

Nicole Arzt is a licensed therapist and also runs the funny Instagram account “psychotherapy memes”. This book is really mainly for therapists; and especially those therapists who are fairly new to the field. Although, I have been a therapist for 20 years and I also really enjoyed it.

Arzt starts out dispelling a bunch of myths about therapists – that we are all secure and confident, that we have our sh*t together all the time, etc. This is a great starting point for this book because it really highlights the fact that we are all just human and doing the best we can. She then launches into insecurity and the many ways that it shows up for therapists. It’s easy to think that therapists always know exactly what to do with their clients (especially if you read a lot of therapy books!) but it’s just not the case.

She talks about getting into the right mindset to be successful and talks about how to even approach your very first therapy session. If you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, join the club! Arzt is very encouraging on this front.

She also talks about how to be a good employee and team player; how to set good boundaries as a therapist; how to cope with burnout and fatigue; and some of the ways that the modern world has transformed therapy and being a therapist.

I really recommend this book if you are starting out as a therapist – I’m personally handing it to all my associates. But even if you’ve been a therapist awhile, you’ll find it valuable – the best part is just feeling like you can be REAL and that it’s ok to just be a regular human.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link.

Review: Savor Every Bite by Lynn Rossy

When I first started this book, I wasn’t a fan. I love the book “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life” by Thich Nhat Hanh, and the book “Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food” by Susan Albers; and these would probably still be my go-to books about mindful eating. But this little book grew on me, and I actually ended up liking it more than I thought I would.

If you or your clients are completely new to mindfulness at all, and you want to apply that to eating as well as generally, this would be a good book for you. One of the things I didn’t like about it at first was that it was so basic; but I realize that not everyone is well-versed in mindfulness at all, much less about eating. The other books I mentioned might require more knowledge about mindfulness in general.

Rossy is a yoga teacher as well as a clinical health psychologist teaching mindful eating, and she does a good job here of starting at the most basic level. Much of the book is simply about basic mindfulness, breathing and movement exercises that will help you in any endeavor. Rossy then ties these to eating, and how you can apply the skills she is teaching when it comes to choosing your food.

If you are looking for a diet, this isn’t it. Rossy is one of the camp that there is no good and bad foods; and when we label them as such, then we become good or bad when we partake of them. She believes that if you mindfully practice knowing if you are hungry; knowing if you are full; and then assessing what it really is that you want – that you will have a much healthier relationship with food.

All in all, this is a useful book to have if you – or your clients – have no knowledge of mindfulness or yoga and are looking for an introductory book that explains how to eat mindfully.

Disclaimer: the link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases from this link.

Review: The Object of my Affection is in my Reflection by Rokelle Lerner

There are so many books on narcissism, the most common being “Stop Walking on Eggshells” or “Loving the Self-Absorbed”. Those are great books too, but this book is one of my favorites, and even though it is not a new book, I wanted to give it a shout out because I feel like this book does not get nearly enough exposure.

One thing I really like about this book is that it is useful both for therapists and also for those in relationship with narcissists. She has whole sections on therapy with narcissists and strategies that therapists can take in working with narcissists, which is great. Narcissists have a high likelihood of substance abuse and are not very amenable to therapy, but will go if they lose a relationship or other important things like jobs. While a therapist might be tempted to confront a narcissist, this will not do any good. It’s important to work with their ego if possible, and to be firm yet gentle. Having good boundaries is crucially important.

For those in relationship with narcissists, Lerner has awesome suggestions. First, narcissists tend to choose people who will fall for their overwhelming charm, and may have fears of abandonment, or susceptible to taking the blame for everything. So it is important for people in these relationships to know themselves and do their own work. Also for these individuals, boundaries are super important, and learning to really accept that the narcissist can’t and won’t change.

This is an easy to read book that is great to hand to clients who are struggling in relationship to narcissists, but it’s also a great book for therapists to have on their shelf to consult. If you only have one book about narcissists, I think this one should be it!

Disclaimer: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from purchases made through this link. Summaries are NOT intended to replace the purchase of the book, but simply to save you time reading.

Review: How to Make Good Things Happen by Marian Rojas Estapé, M.D.

Honestly, I’d skip this one. EstapĂ© is a psychiatrist in Spain and conceivably wrote this book to talk about neuroscience and how to make choices that make life better. But I really can’t count all the statements I disagree with in this book. Here are a few of them:

  1. “Failures, and how they are framed, are the most decisive aspect of anyone’s trajectory in life.” I mean, I do agree that failures and how we deal with them have a lot of meaning, but the most decisive aspect? I don’t know.
  2. “A person without a project cannot be happy.” I mean, I like a project as well as the next guy, but cannot be happy? Really? So my happiness when I’m on vacation and lying on a beach doing absolutely nothing is false?
  3. “It is always wiser to remain silent. Silence is the gatekeeper of intimacy.” I completely disagree with this one. We all know there are times when silence is better. But always? I see a ton of couples who are conflict avoidant and I can just tell you, their silence is doing nothing at all for their intimacy.
  4. “There is no good leader who is not a good person.” This is probably mostly true. But none? No one? Even good leaders can make bad mistakes.
  5. “With practice, humor, and willingness, you can improve if you just decide to.” and “If you really long for something, you’ll be able to manifest it.” I get that a lot of people believe in this kind of stuff. But I think it really discounts things like class systems, poverty and so on. There are a lot of people for whom just longing for something doesn’t do a damn thing.
  6. “Permanent anxiety opens the door to depression.” Maybe sometimes? But with most of my clients, they tend towards either depression or anxiety. I myself have struggled with depression most of my life, and I can tell you that anxiety has nothing to do with it.
  7. “Guilt demoralizes us; it allows no forward progress.” Hoo boy, I totally disagree with this one. I mean, we do carry toxic guilt that demoralizes. But regular guilt is good and does indeed allow forward progress. If I steal something and I feel guilty, that’s good; and forward progress comes from paying my dues/saying sorry/seeking forgiveness or reparations.
  8. “A person who hasn’t experienced a clinical depression doesn’t know the true nature of sadness.” What in the world? So my husband, who hasn’t been clinically depressed a day in his life, isn’t truly sad about his dad dying? I just don’t even get this one.
  9. “The only two things that really fulfill a human being completely are love and professional satisfaction.” I can certainly think of people for whom those two things do fulfill. But I hardly think those are the only two things that can really fulfill a person.

Overall, I found this book disorganized and pithy. The sequence of chapters did not make sense to me at all, and the kind of advice (like above) bordered on the ridiculous. If people could really make good things happen by “mind over matter” and so on, then no one would ever need medications or therapy. Seriously, I’ll put the Amazon link below, but I wouldn’t waste my money.

I received this book free from Net Galley for my review. The Amazon link above is an affiliate link.

Review: The Better Brain by Bonnie Kaplan & Julia Rucklidge

This is a book that argues that we can heal at least some mental health issues with better nutrition. Before you roll your eyes, know that this book is very scientific, and all of the claims these authors make are backed up by scientific studies which they go to great lengths to explain.

The reason why I feel like this book is important for therapists is because not every client will consider anti-depressants or other psychotropic medications, and not everyone is helped by these medications. When this happens, I try to brainstorm with my clients about non-medication options that might be helpful. It is well known that exercise helps greatly with depression and other mental health issues; but what about nutrition? On it’s face, it seems like a pipe dream. But the authors ask: why is it that we readily accept that better nutrition will improve our body, heart health and overall wellness – but we leave mental health out of it? Doesn’t it make sense that our brain also uses the nutrients we take in to do it’s job, and if we don’t feed it well, it won’t work as well?

Most of us think only about macronutrients (carbs, proteins & fats), but in this book the authors talk more about micronutrients – all of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to do their jobs. These micronutrients play a huge role in feeding the neurotransmitters in our brains (serotonin, dopamine, etc), and also keeping your telomeres longer, which is associated with healthy aging. For the most part, the authors recommend a Mediterranean diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals our body needs.

But they do realize that when depressed or in the throes of other mental health issues, diet changes might be impossible and supplements can be useful. 99% of supplements, though, have not been tested at all for nutrient value, so they recommend certain ones (which they do not get any money from). One thing to understand about supplements is that most scientific studies have focused on only one nutrient (like a B12 study for example); the authors believe this is why we haven’t been able to really see the effects of good micronutrients – the key is having a supplement with a breadth of vitamins and minerals (at least 30). The authors have done studies which show that these types of supplements can reduce aggression, ADHD and extreme stress.

They talk about how our soil (95% of North American soil) has been treated with Roundup or other glyphosate based herbicides, lowering the nutrient value in the soil. The problem is that glyphosate based herbicides increase inflammation, which has been positively associated with higher rates of depression. So eating organic food from healthy soil is really important.

This book would be a great recommendation for someone who is not getting as much benefit as they would like from their medications; or, for someone who is just really opposed to taking psychotropic medications. Although it seems too good to be true, if a client is suffering and not willing to take medications, why not try this as a way of feeling better? There are no negative side effects from getting better nutrition. Also, if you have a lot of clients who resist medication, it might be good to read this book for yourself so that you can make intelligent suggestions when it comes to nutrition and supplements. This book will be out April 20, 2021.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Net Galley for my review. The Amazon link above is an affiliate link. Summaries are not intended to replace the purchase of the book, but simply to save you time reading!

Review: A Cure for Darkness by Alex Riley

When I saw this book by Alex Riley, it looked like something that would be super interesting; and it was! I’m not sure exactly who the intended audience is for this book – it isn’t really solution based, but it is filled with a ton of very interesting information.

Riley begins the book by giving a lengthy history of depression treatments, mental health and psychotherapy (Freud, anyone?). I’m not sure if everyone will be as fascinated by this as me, but I’m a therapist so maybe not!

Riley talks about his own struggle with depression and the things that he has tried, but also goes into the myriad treatments that are out there for this disease. He talks about the differences between anti-depresssants (MAO inhibitors, SSRIs and tricyclics) and why some might work better for different people. He gives a history of ECT, which has gotten a bad name, but has been very effective historically for depression.

The most fascinating part of the book to me (and something that I really didn’t know, but should have!) is the connection between inflammation and depression. There is a clear connection between inflammation in the body and depression, so lowering your inflammation might help you more than anti-depressants will. Following a Mediterranean diet (which lowers inflammation) and not drinking alcohol (which raises inflammation) are places you can start. Also, intense exercise can raise inflammation, whereas moderate exercise 3 days a week might help.

Lastly, he talks about psychedelics and ketamine, and the new research about how it might be helpful. This is a really fascinating book and a must-read for anyone who wants to know more in general about depression.

Disclaimer: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through this link. I received this book free from Net Galley for my review.

Review: Therapy Sessions Journals

I was sent this journal (and another one for online sessions) by an Instagram follower, and I really, really love these and think they have a lot of value. Especially for video sessions. My clients have told me that they’ve noticed how they used to think about what they wanted to cover in the session on the drive over, or sitting in the waiting room. Now they just “click” over from whatever they are otherwise working on, and it doesn’t provide any transition time.

I love these journals because it gives the client a structured way to make notes from their sessions and plan for the next one. And then there is a “30 day check-in” page after every 4 or 5 sessions so that the client can see what kinds of progress they are making.

The way I do these kinds of things is to buy a stack of these and price it into the cost of my initial assessment session. But you can also just provide your clients with a link so that they can purchase these if they find it valuable. You can find these on Instagram @adaytoremember_journals, or purchase at the Amazon link below (which is an affiliate link).