In mid-September 1990, when I booked myself into the John Bradshaw Center at Ingleside Hospital outside of LA, Mr. Bradshaw was enjoying his heyday as a popular self-help author and television darling. If you tuned to any PBS TV station during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s chances are pretty good you’d see the charismatic Bradshaw lecturing on the relationship of families and shame, especially during fund drives. He was a guest on all the talk shows, including Oprah, Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Phil Donahue. He even hosted his own talk show for a season or two. Bradshaw ended up writing six books altogether, three of which became New York Times bestsellers.
Patients at the Bradshaw Center weren’t allowed to watch live TV, but we could watch VHS tapes of John Bradshaw’s PBS series to our hearts’ content. I think I watched the entire 10-part Bradshaw on the Family series three times. Two of his books, Bradshaw on the Family and Healing the Shame that Binds You, were required reading. I still have my copies full of yellow highlights and notes scratched in the margins.
Bibliotherapy was a large part of the Bradshaw treatment. Along with books by the Center’s namesake, patients were encouraged to read pop psych books like Pia Mellody’s Codependent No More and the “bible” for the sexually abused (and purportedly sexually abused), The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. We had a lot of time to read, so many of us added popular self-help books of the time like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Some of these books proved helpful. Others I found either annoyingly repetitive or just inappropriate for my background and circumstances. One or two, I believe, actually did me harm.
I am a reader. And over the course of my life I have picked up books from the self-help sections of many a bookstore. I can honestly say some were outstanding and a few even life changing. I recently finished Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes and credit that book for helping me find the impetus to start writing my memoir and this blog.
So, gentle readers, how about you? Have you reaped any quality results from self-guided bibliotherapy? If so, what books would be your top recommendations? And on the flip side, if you’ve plowed through any pop psych or self-help books that left you cold, I’d love to hear about those too.