75 Must-Read Books for Therapists

(Updated 8/29/22) This is a recommended list of 75+ “must-read” books for therapists and other mental health professionals.

The first section includes recommendations for both professionals and consumers. The next section includes suggested workbooks for therapy and/or self-help. The “Textbooks” section is comprised of required reading that I found valuable as a counseling grad student. In the “PracticePlanners Series” section, I included the planners I’ve relied on the most. The last section includes additional reads that have been helpful to me in both my professional and personal life.

For additional books and tools for therapists, see Resources for Mental Health Professionals and Group Therapy Resource Guide.


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Must-Read Books for You & Your Clients

250 Brief, Creative & Practical Art Therapy Techniques: A Guide for Clinicians and Clients

Addictive Relationships: Why Love Goes Wrong in Recovery

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love

Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia: Helping Your Loved One Get the Most Out of Life

Drinking: A Love Story

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

How to Heal Depression

How to Survive the Loss of a Love

Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health

Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism and Addictions

Surviving Schizophrenia, 7th Edition: A Family Manual


Workbooks

The Addictions Recovery Workbook: 101 Practical Exercises for Individuals and Groups

The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook: Changing Addictive Behaviors Using CBT, Mindfulness, and Motivational Interviewing Techniques

Antisocial, Borderline, Narcissistic and Histrionic Workbook: Treatment Strategies for Cluster B Personality Disorders

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook

The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution

The Attachment Theory Workbook: Powerful Tools to Promote Understanding, Increase Stability, and Build Lasting Relationships

Building Motivational Interviewing Skills, Second Edition: A Practitioner Workbook (Applications of Motivational Interviewing)

The CBT Toolbox: A Workbook for Clients and Clinicians

The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety: A Step-By-Step Program

The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-by-Step Program

The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole

DBT® Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition

DBT® Skills Training Manual, Second Edition

The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression, Second Edition

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety: Breaking Free from Worry, Panic, PTSD, and Other Anxiety Symptoms

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for PTSD: Practical Exercises for Overcoming Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Healing the Trauma of Abuse: A Women’s Workbook

The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms

Relapse Prevention Counseling Workbook: Practical Exercises for Managing High-Risk Situations

The Relationship Workbook

The Self-Esteem Workbook

The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven, Step-by-Step Techniques for Overcoming Your Fear

The Wellness Lifestyle Workbook – Self-Assessments, Exercises & Educational Handouts (Mental Health & Life Skills Workbook Series)

The Wellness Workbook: How to Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality

A Woman’s Addiction Workbook: Your Guide to In-Depth Healing


Textbooks

Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Community and Agency Settings

Exercises in the Art of Helping

Family Therapy: An Overview

Foundations of Addictions Counseling (The Merrill Counseling Series)

Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy

The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy


PracticePlanners Series

The Addiction Treatment Planner: Includes DSM-5 Updates

Addiction Treatment Homework Planner

The Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment Planner

Adult Psychotherapy Homework Planner

The Complete Anxiety Treatment and Homework Planner

The Complete Depression Treatment and Homework Planner

The Couples Psychotherapy Treatment Planner with DSM-5 Updates

Couples Therapy Homework Planner

The Crisis Counseling and Traumatic Events Treatment Planner with DSM-5 Updates

The Family Therapy Treatment Planner with DSM-5 Updates

The Personality Disorders Treatment Planner: Includes DSM-5 Updates

The Severe and Persistent Mental Illness Treatment Planner

The Suicide and Homicide Risk Assessment and Prevention Treatment Planner


Additional Reading

86 TIPS (Treatment Ideas & Practical Strategies) for the Therapeutic Toolbox

127 More Amazing Tips and Tools for the Therapeutic Toolbox

103 Group Activities and Treatment Ideas & Practical Strategies

150 More Group Therapy Activities & TIPS

100 Interactive Activities for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Recovery

101 Trauma-Informed Interventions: Activities, Exercises and Assignments to Move the Client and Therapy Forward

Attachment: 60 Trauma-Informed Assessment and Treatment Interventions Across the Lifespan

Diagnosis Made Easier, Second Edition: Principles and Techniques for Mental Health Clinicians

Encyclopedia of Counseling: Master Review and Tutorial for the National Counselor Examination, State Counseling Exams, and the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination

Essential Assessment Skills for Couple and Family Therapists (The Guilford Family Therapy Series)

Essentials of Clinical Supervision (Essentials of Mental Health Practice)

Group Exercises for Addiction Counseling

Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (Applications of Motivational Interviewing)

Motivational Interviewing and CBT: Combining Strategies for Maximum Effectiveness (Applications of Motivational Interviewing)

The Therapeutic “Aha!”: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck

Trauma Treatment Toolbox: 165 Brain-Changing Tips, Tools & Handouts to Move Therapy Forward


must-read books

Group Therapy: A Comprehensive Resource Guide

A resource guide for group facilitation

Initially, the idea of group therapy terrified me. What if I couldn’t “control” the group? What if a client challenged me? What if I couldn’t think of anything to say? What if everyone got up and walked out? (That last one actually happened, once, by the way.)

What made group counseling especially intimidating was that if I “messed up,” an entire group of people [as opposed to one person] would witness my failure.

Group facilitation wasn’t always comfortable and I made many (many!) mistakes, but I grew. I realized it’s okay to be counselor and human; at times, humans say dumb stuff, hurt each other’s feelings, and don’t know the answer.

By letting go of the need to be perfect, I became more effective. Group facilitation is now one of my favorite parts of the job.


This resource guide provides practical information and tools for group therapy for mental health practitioners.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Group Therapy Guidelines

Group therapy is an evidence-based treatment for substance use and mental disorders. An effective group calls for a skilled clinician to meet treatment standards. Professional associations, such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association, develop best practice guidelines based on scientific data and clinical research.

Are you a therapist, social worker, or peer support specialist who provides group counseling? Click here for guidelines from the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

Want to learn about current best practice in group work? Click here for the revised guidelines from the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW).

Additionally, SAMHSA promotes research-based protocols and has published several group therapy guides for best practice, including TIP 41: Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy, Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy – Quick Guide for Clinicians, and Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy Inservice Training (a training manual), in addition to group workbooks/facilitator guides for anger management, stimulant use disorder, and serious mental illness.

Book Recommendations

Disclaimer: This section contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The book itself is small in size but packed with helpful information and creative ideas. As a new counselor lacking in clinical skills, I supplemented with activities to engage the clients. Group Exercises for Addiction Counseling never failed me.


A more recent discovery of mine. This guide provides detailed instructions accompanied by thought-provoking discussion questions for each intervention. I was impressed with both the quality and originality; an instant upgrade to “house-tree-person.”

Textbooks


(For additional book recommendations, see Resources for Mental Health Professionals and Must-Read Books for Therapists.)

Icebreakers & Activities

You only have to Google “icebreakers” and you’ll have a million activities to choose from. I’m not listing many, but they’re ones clients seem to enjoy the most.

Fun Facts

My favorite icebreaker activity involves passing out blank slips of paper to each group member and instructing them to write a “fun fact” about themselves, something no one else in the group would know. I provide them with examples (i.e. “I once had a pet lamb named Bluebell” or “I won a hotdog eating contest when I was 11 and then threw up all over the judges’ shoes”).

Depending on the crowd, you may want to tell clients not to write anything they wouldn’t want their peers to know. (I adopted this guideline after a client wrote about “sharting” himself.) Once everyone has written something, have them fold their papers and place in a container of some sort (a gift box, paper bag, plastic bowl, etc.) Group members take turns passing around the container (one-at-a-time) and picking a slip to read aloud. They must then guess who wrote it. (I give three guesses; after that, I turn it over to the group.)


Icebreaker Question Cards

A similar but more structured activity is to write out questions ahead of time and have clients take turns drawing and answering the questions. Questions can be silly, thought-provoking, or intending to illicit a strong emotional response (depending on the audience and goals for the group).


“People Search” involves a list of traits, feats, talents, or experiences. Each client receives the list and is given x amount of time to find someone in the group who is a match; that individual will then sign off. The first person to have their list completely signed sits down; they win. I typically let clients continue to collect signatures until two additional people sit down.

(Prizes optional, but always appreciated.) During the debriefing, it’s fun to learn more (and thereby increase understanding and compassion).


First Impressions

“First Impressions” works best with group members who don’t know each other well. It’s important for group members to know each other’s names (or wear name tags). Each group member has a sheet of paper with various “impressions” (i.e. judgments/stereotypes).

For example, items on the list might be “Looks like an addict” and “Looks intelligent.” Clients write other group members’ names for each impression. In addition to enhancing a sense of community, this activity provides an avenue for discussing harmful stereotypes and stigma.


Affirmations Group

Affirmations groups can be powerful, generating unity and kindness. The effect seems to be more pronounced in gender-specific groups. There are a variety of ways to facilitate an affirmations group, ranging from each person providing an affirmation to the client on their right to individuals sharing a self-affirmation with the group to creating a self-affirmation painting.

Another idea is to give each client a sheet of paper. (Consider using quality, brightly-colored paper/posterboard and providing markers, gel pens, etc.) Clients write their name on it and then all the papers are passed around so each group member has the opportunity to write on everyone else’s sheet. Once their original paper is returned to them, they can read and share with the group. This can lead to a powerful discussion about image, reputation, feeling fake, etc. (Plus, clients get to keep the papers!)


Most Likely & Least Likely to Relapse

“Most Likely to Relapse/Least Likely to Relapse” works best with a well-formed group and may require extra staff support. It’s good for larger groups and can be highly effective in a therapeutic community.

Clients receive blank pieces of paper and are tasked to write the names of who they think is most likely and least likely to relapse. After writing their own name on the sheet, they turn it in to staff (effectively allowing staff to maintain a safe and productive environment). Staff then read each sheet aloud (without naming who wrote it). If they choose, clients can share what they wrote and provide additional feedback. (Most do.) Clients selected as “most likely” (in either category) have the opportunity to process with other group members and staff.


Access more group therapy worksheets and handouts here.

Additional Group Activities

Psychoeducation & Process Groups

In need of fresh material? It can be easy to fall into a rut, especially if you’re burnout or working with a particularly challenging group. The following three PDF downloads are lists of ideas for group topics.

Additional Ideas for Psychoeducation & Process Groups

Practical Tips for Psychoeducation & Process Groups

As a group facilitator, consider incorporating some sort of experiential activity, quiz, handout, game, etc. into every session. For example, start with a check-in, review a handout, facilitate a discussion, take a 5-minute bathroom break, facilitate a role-play, and then close the group by summarizing and providing clients with the opportunity to share what they learned.

If an experiential or interactive exercise isn’t feasible, provide coffee or snacks; sitting for 45 minutes is difficult for some, and 90 minutes can be unbearable.

Another idea is to have a “fun” or “free” group in the curriculum. Ideas include going bowling, having a potluck, Starbucks run, game group (i.e. Catchphrase, Pictionary, etc.), escape room, nature walk, etc.

Dealing with Challenges

Clients are not always willing therapy participants; some are court-ordered to attend or there to have privileges restored. Some attendees may be there “voluntarily,” but only to save their marriage or keep a job, not believing they need help. In residential treatment, clients attend mandatory groups as part of the daily schedule — participate or you’re out.

Even when attendance is truly voluntary, a group member may be in a bad space. Maybe they’re stressed about the rent or just got into a fight with their significant other. Or what if the AC is broken and the group room is 80 degrees? What if a client has unpleasant body odor or bad breath or an annoying cough?

Multiple factors combine and it’s suddenly a sh**show. (I’ll never forget the client who climbed onto a chair to “rally the troops” against my tyranny.) Anticipating challenges is the first step to effectively preventing and managing them.


Click here for a helpful article from Counseling Today that addresses the concept of client resistance.

Tips for Dealing with Challenges

1. If possible, co-facilitate. One clinician leads while the other observes. The observer remains attuned to the general “tone” of the group, i.e. facial expressions, body language, etc.

2. Review the expectations at the beginning of every group. Ask clients to share the guidelines with each other (instead of you telling them). This promotes a collaborative spirit.

3. After guidelines are reviewed, explain that while interrupting is discouraged, there may be times when you interject to maintain the overall wellness and safety of the group. (Knowing this, a client is less likely to get angry or feel disrespected when/if it happens.)

4. If you must interrupt, apologize, and explain the rationale.

5. Avoid power struggles at all costs, especially when a client challenges the benefits of treatment. (The unhealthier group members will quickly side with a challenger, leading to a complaint session.) Challenging the efficacy of treatment (or you as a clinician) is often a defense mechanism. Sometimes, the best response is simply “okay,” or none at all… and keep moving. You can also acknowledge the client’s perspective and ask to meet with them after group (and then get back on topic). If the group is relatively healthy, you may want to illicit feedback from other group members.

6. If a client becomes angry or tearful, give them time to vent for a moment or two (don’t “Band-Aid”); they may be able to self-regulate. (If they do self-regulate, share your observations and offer praise.)

7. If a client’s anger escalates to a disruptive level, ask them to take a break. At this point, their behavior is potentially triggering to other group members. Don’t raise your voice or ask them to calm down. Direct them step out and return when they’re ready. You may have to repeat yourself several times, but remain firm and calm, and they will eventually listen.

8. If a client is disrespectful (cursing at you or another client, name-calling, insulting, etc.) while escalated, let them know it’s not okay, but don’t attempt to provide feedback. (A simple, “Hey, that’s not okay,” will suffice.) Bring it up with the client later when they’re able to process.

9. Once the disgruntled client exits the room, acknowledge what happened and let the group know you will follow up with the client. If another client wants to talk about it, ask them to share only how it made them feel, but stress that it’s not okay to talk about an absent group member. (“How would you feel if we talked about you when you weren’t here?”) Strongly suggest that they wait until the person returns (and is open) to have a group discussion.

10. After a major blow-up (and once everyone is calm), it can be beneficial for the group to process it with the person who escalated. Group members can empathize/relate, share their observations and/or how it made them feel, and offer feedback.

11. If other disruptive behaviors occur in group (side conversations, snoring, etc.) address them in the moment (without shaming, of course). Point out the behavior and explain how it’s disruptive to the group. Refer back to the group guidelines. Ask group members to comment as well. If you let a behavior persist, hoping it will eventually stop, you’re sending the message that it’s okay, not only to the person who is disruptive, but to the entire group. This impacts the integrity of the group and opens things up for additional disruptive behaviors.

12. For clients who monopolize, who are constantly joking, or who attempt to intentionally distract by changing the topic, point out your observations and encourage group members to give feedback.

13. If, on the other hand, clients seem disengaged or unmotivated, seek out their feedback, privately or in the group, whichever is clinically appropriate.

14. If there’s a general level of disengagement, bring it up in the group. Remain objective and state your observations.

15. Anticipate that at times, people may not have much to say. (And while yes, there’s always something to talk about, that doesn’t mean someone is ready to or has the emotional energy to.) Maybe they’re distracted or tired or feeling “talked out.” It’s good to have backup plans: watch a psychoeducational film, take a walk in the park, listen to meditations or music, provide worksheets, education reading material, or coloring sheets.

16. Always keep in mind a client’s stage of change, their internal experiences (i.e. hearing voices, social anxiety, paranoia, physical pain, etc.), external circumstances (i.e. recent medication change, loss of housing, conflict with roommates, etc.), and history of trauma. What looks like resistance may be something else entirely.


Professional Group Therapy Organizations

Academic Articles

Online Articles

Additional Links


  • The Center for Group Studies | The Center provides a unique method of group training. Principles and techniques are based on the theory that the group is a powerful agent of change.
  • Group Dynamics | This blog provides some links and book chapters on various topics related to the study of groups. You can also find teaching resources related to group dynamics. 
  • Management Library | This site provides free resources for managers, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Much of the content on facilitation and teams is applicable to group facilitation.
  • My Group Guide | A great tool for those who do not have the time to find worksheets/handouts for their clients, group activities, and other resources.
  • Resources in Group Psychotherapy | Helpful resources and links for group psychotherapy from the Sacramento Center for Psychotherapy, including an online forum.
  • Systems-Centered Training & Research Institute | SCTRI is an non-profit organization with members from all around the world that supports training and research in the systems-centered approach. 

group therapy

6 Tips for Avoiding Marketing Traps

Marketers use psychological tactics to influence, convince, and even deceive consumers. This article explores some of the lesser-know marketing traps and how you can avoid them.

marketing traps
Image by Aurore Duwez from Pixabay

Marketing Traps: How Advertisers Use Psychology to Sway

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when you Google “bathing suits,” only shortly thereafter to have swimwear ads litter your Facebook feed. Wikipedia defines marketing as “the business process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ needs and wants.” But what about deceptive or misleading marketing traps?

There’s an entire branch of research dedicated to understanding consumer behavior via psychological, technological, and economical principles. However, you may be less aware of misleading marketing traps or tactics intended to foster false trust or play on subconscious fears.

Here’s a real life example: Recently, I used DoorDash to order breakfast from Silver Diner. I was shocked when the total came to nearly $70. Luckily, my husband was too; he suggested going directly through the restaurant. I selected the equivalent menu items and it was $30 cheaper!! DoorDash not only raised entrée prices, but charged additional fees on top of the delivery fee and tip. To think, I wouldn’t have compared prices had my husband not been (duly) outraged; I almost fell victim to “brand trust.”

Consider the companies you trust. Why don’t you question their products, services, prices, etc.? Are you brand-washed?

To avoid misleading marketing traps, always compare prices, read reviews from verified buyers, avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry, steer clear of end-of-aisles deals, buy off-season, etc.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

This article explores a few lesser-known ways marketers influence consumers by using psychological principles (marketing tactic traps), and how to avoid them. When you, the consumer, know the science behind advertising strategies, you’re better equipped to make educated decisions (and will avoid feeling betrayed by a food delivery app!)


A false sense of health

Advertisers use health-related buzzwords like “gluten-free” or “organic” to lure buyers with an impression of being nutritious. In one study, consumers viewed items stamped with healthy-sounding catchphrases as healthier than non-stamped foods.

Real life example: Years ago, I accompanied a friend to the grocery store. In the dairy section, she grabbed a jug of whole milk. I knew she wanted to lose weight, so I suggested skim. Dubious, she expressed concern because it wasn’t “vitamin D-rich.” Had she consulted the nutrition facts instead of scanning labels, she would know whole and skim have equal amounts of the vitamin.

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

The Health “Buzzword” Marketing Trap

Avoid falling for the health buzzword marketing trap by reading nutrition facts and ingredients before buying. (Sure, those Fruit Loops are made with whole grain, but the first ingredient is still sugar!)

Beware of fast-paced music in a crowded store… it’s a trap!

Researchers found that consumers’ spending increased as the tempo of the music quickened. In addition to spending more, shoppers purchased additional items (instead of opting for fewer products at higher prices). Interestingly, this effect was only observable when the store was crowded.

To avoid this marketing trap, remain aware of your environment when shopping and if possible, go when crowds are thin (or at least wear ear buds).

An unconscious fear of dying may lead you to buy more bottled water – and water bottle companies capitalize on it!

(Um, what? I thought the occasional 7-Eleven purchase of Deer Park was a combination of laziness and convenience on my part, not an ominous and looming fear of my fragile mortality.)

The Bottled Water Marketing Tactic Trap

In 2018, researchers asserted that “most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products. Bottled water ads specifically trigger our most subconscious fear [of death].” It was also suggested that bottled water symbolizes something safe and pure – compelling when you want to avoid health risks.

Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay

According to the study, bottled water appeals most to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.

Whether or not this study withstands replication, consider a filter!

Don’t shop for beach gear on a sunny day

Save your shopping for poorer weather conditions. Researchers found that consumers place a higher value on associated products respective to the weather.

The rationale: It’s easier for someone to visualize the comfort of a fluffy beach towel or the shade of an umbrella when it’s hot and bright (compared to when it’s pouring rain), thereby increasing the desire to make a purchase. Interestingly, this seems to hold true for sunny or snowy conditions, but not rainy weather. It was speculated that rain gear is typically purchased to avoid unpleasant conditions, not to increase enjoyment.

Be wary of the weather when shopping for that beach trip or ski vacation in the mountains; you may end up spending more than intended.

Marketing’s subtle siren song is a hidden trap!

If you’re not one who’s influenced by the “logical persuasion” of advertisements, you may still be subconsciously enticed by the “non-rational influence.” Different kinds of advertisements evoke different types of brain activity.

Even the wisest consumer can be “seduced.” Marketers both overtly and subtly influence our buying behaviors. Your brain will unavoidably betray you at times; you can either accept this or become a hermit. (You may also consider shopping where there are lenient return policies, but be wary of policies that seem too lenient, as this may be a ploy.)

The relaxation trap– don’t get too comfortable!

A 2011 study indicated that relaxed consumers perceived items at a higher value when compared to their less-relaxed (although not stressed) counterparts.

Image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay

If you’re a bargain-hunter, stay alert to how you’re feeling before entering a store or searching on Amazon; otherwise, you may think you’re getting a great deal when you’re not. (And if you use social media, know that ads may have more sway when you’re sleepy.)


In the midst of marketing traps, misleading ads, and #fakenews, stick with the facts and don’t be swayed.


For more research, see 5 Recent Research Findings on Health & Human Behavior.

marketing traps

Do You Speak Therapist? 50 Expressions That Never Fail

A list of common questions and phrases used in therapy – includes a free PDF printable version of this resource

therapist office
Image by DanielCubas from Pixabay

Do You Speak Therapist?

Therapists have their own unique (and purposeful) language. We may use clinical jargon when talking to other clinicians, but when we’re with our clients (and most likely, with other significant people in our lives), we are focused and thoughtful. We speak therapist.

Therapy is a tool for self-discovery; as therapists, it’s important to know how to effectively employ this tool. (For example, a hammer, while a useful tool, would not be effective if someone used the handle to pound a nail instead of the head.) What we say and how we say it is powerful: open-ended questions, reflections, clarifications, etc.


The following is a list of questions/phrases I find myself using in individual therapy and group sessions to explore, empathize, empower, and motivate change, including a few versions of the “miracle question” (a question used in therapy that asks the client to imagine what their life would look like if, miraculously, all of their problems disappeared and everything was perfect).

Click below to access a printable PDF version of this list.


Do You Speak Therapist?

1. How are you feeling?

2. How does/did that make you feel?

3. What would happen if you gave yourself permission to feel your emotions?

4. What was that experience like for you?

5. When did you first notice that…

6. When did you first recognize that…

7. What are your current internal experiences and reactions?

8. I’m noticing that…

9. What I’m hearing is…

10. It sounds like…

11. I wonder if…

12. It makes a lot of sense hearing it from your perspective… and, I wonder what would happen if…

13. May I share some feedback with you?

14. Are you open to a suggestion?

15. Would you like to hear a different perspective?

16. May I share my observations?

17. Would you like to know more about [mental health topic]?

18. Some research indicates that [evidence that supports an idea], but other studies have found that [evidence that doesn’t support an idea].

19. Tell more about that.

20. Tell me what that was like for you.

21. Will you say more about that?

22. Can you speak to…

23. I’m not sure I understand.

24. Help me to understand.

25. Correct me if I’m wrong, but…

26. What am I missing? Something doesn’t quite match up…

27. Is there anything else I need to know?

28. Did I hear you correctly when you said…

29. May I pause you for a minute?

30. Can we return to what you said earlier about…

31. It looks like you shut down when I said [previous statement or question]. Can we talk about it?

32. You seem distracted today. Do you want to talk about something else?

33. Do you want to take a break from this topic?

34. What do you think [name of relative/significant other/friend/colleague] would say if they were here in this room with us?

35. If it was [name of relative/significant other/friend/colleague] in this situation, what advice would you give them?

36. What does [belief/action/feeling] look like to you?

37. What does [belief/action/feeling] mean to you?

38. What message did you hear when they said…

39. How would your life be different if you didn’t have [mental illness, an addiction, this problem, etc.]?

40. Was there anything you could have done differently?

41. It sounds like you were doing the best you could with what you had at the time.

42. Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have reacted if in your shoes.

43. You’re the expert on you.

44. I wish I had the answer to that.

45. That’s a really good question. What do you think?

46. On the one hand [client statement or behavior], but on the other [contrary client statement or behavior]

47. You say [client statement], but your actions say…

48. I’m concerned that…

49. I can only imagine how [emotion word] that was for you.

50. Can we explore this more?


For additional conversation starters and questions, see 161 Questions to Explore Values, Ideas, & Beliefs.

speak therapist

6 Powerful Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

(Updated 5/20/20) A list of movies about mental health and substance abuse – includes PDF printable discussion questions

watching TV
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The following is a list of movies about addiction and mental disorders that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion.

Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.


Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.

Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.


Ben Is Back (2018)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use

Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive.

That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide

Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.

Pay It Forward (2000)

123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence

Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), PG-13 rating

Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

113 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes), R-rating for language and brief sexuality

Summary: Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a troubled young woman, who returns from rehab to her family home for her sister’s wedding. The film portrays how Kym’s addiction has placed strain on the family.

When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes), R-rating for language

Summary: Meg Ryan plays Alice, a woman with an alcohol use disorder. The film is about how Alice’s addiction impacts her family and how she recovers.

Bonus: The Netflix original films Heroin(e) (2017) and Recovery Boys (2018) have PDF discussion guides with a summary, questions, and resources posted on the Recovery Boys website.


Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.

movies about addiction