Reading remains an essential part of my continuing professional development as a psychotherapist (with podcasts a competitor now too). It’s important we keep up with theory and practice, but I think memoirs and autobiographies are a very valuable resource to further understanding experiences that I may never have shared – or have shared, but of course, in my own way.

I often recommend a book to a client who I know enjoys reading, and I’m often told how they can offer a sense of affirmation, relief or even release in reading about experiences that resonate closely. The following categories are loose, and the books suggested below are not quite my selection, but are books I have reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement and think are worth mentioning.


Jo Caulfield – The Funny Thing About Death Caulfield, a comedian, writes about the death of her complex and talented sister from cancer with arresting commentaries on the repeated blows of grief. Arifa Akbar – Consumed Akbar is an accomplished theatre critic, and here she writes movingly about the troubled life and early death of her sister, who had struggled with mental health problems for many years. Justine Picardie – If the Spirit Moves You I read this nearly a decade ago but I still remember how hard it hit. Picardie loses her sister to cancer and nearly her mind in her quest to connect with her spirit, and to cope with the agony of loss.

Georgina Lucas – If Not For You This is a moving and generous story of a mother’s loss of her baby son soon after his premature birth, and the precious time spent on the neonatal ward with him. Tamarin Norwood – The Song of the Whole Wide World An extraordinary work of lyrical prose about a pregnancy saturated in the grief of knowledge that her son would die soon after birth. Ariel Levy – The Rules Do Not Apply This has one of the most arresting depictions of the too-early birth of a baby that I have ever read.

Helen Macdonald – H is for Hawk This award-winning book meticulously narrates the year after Macdonald’s father suddenly died and her coping through the training of a goshawk.

Max Porter – Grief Is A Thing With Feathers A meditative, other-worldly and powerful book written by a father of two boys in the wake of his wife’s sudden death. The reeling and chaos and love seep through.


Katherine May – Wintering This is a gentle and thoughtful meditation on the need for withdrawal, rest and repair when life feels challenging.

Emma Forrest – Your Voice In My Head Forrest was a precociously talented journalist, flying high until her mind unravelled into self-destructive mania. Many reviewers didn’t like this book for its self-indulgence but there’s some winning prose and a fascinating insight into her relationship with a psychiatrist who suddenly died.

Elizabeth Wurtzel – Prozac Nation Now thirty years old but still an important record of the lived experience of depression, this book divided opinions and forged many too – it shifted conversations about depression and suffering.


Marianne Eloise – Obsessive Intrusive Magical Thinking This is a compelling read, skillfully split into its three themes of thinking by a neurodivergent and deeply anxious author who found love, and ways to cope. David Adam – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop A brilliant and portrayal of the author’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and his efforts to understand and help it. Daniel Smith – Monkey Mind A visceral, funny and appropriately exhausting portrayal of extreme anxiety and the many efforts the author makes to tame it.


Caroline Knapp – Drinking Published in 1996, this was a best-seller, peeking behind the high-functioning alcoholism of the author that sustained her for over two decades. Amy Liptrot – The Outrun This is an award-winning memoir of healing from alcohol addiction amongst the raw natural offerings of a remote Orkney isle. Koren Zailckas – Smashed Relevant 20 years on from its bestselling debut, Koren began drinking too much as a teen, creeping into reliance by early adulthood. Michele Kirsch – Clean Kirsch hits rock bottom and climbs back up, ending where she started using vodka and valium, cleaning other people’s houses. Set in my home of Hackney.

Siegrid Rausing – Mayhem This was a tragic, and public, and agonising story of the author’s sister-in-law’s death from drug addiction, and her brother’s denial of it.


Jess MacDonald – No Comment Training as a Met Police officer didn’t help MacDonald’s experience of depression. The bullying she experienced, along with her witnessing the dire state of rape prosecutions tipped her into leaving.

Roopa Farooki – Everything Is True Written by a doctor during the early months of the pandemic, this close-up view of the trauma and dreadful working circumstances are vividly drawn from diary entries.

Tim Parks – Teach Us to Sit Still Suffering severe and mysterious pelvic pain, while working hard in his academic role, Parks finds relief in a form of meditation.

Mental Illness

Tanya Frank – Zig Zag Boy Frank tries everything she can to support her son as he slips into a terrifying, and baffling, psychotic breakdown. Joanna Cannon (ed) – Will You Read This Please? An important collection of first-person narratives, collated by a psychiatrist in her valiant effort to dignify the experience of severe mental illness.

Alice Carriere – Everything Nothing Someone This is a meticulous exposition of a breakdown, and recovery, by the daughter of narcissistic, high achieving parents.

Sathnam Sanghera – Boy With A Topknot Winning the MIND Book of The Year 2009 this is a memoir of growing up between two cultures in the Wolverhampton Sikh community, with the discovery of schizophrenia in the family.

Barbara Taylor – The Last Asylum The author writes beautifully of her ‘madness years’ and her admission to Friern Hospital, previously known as Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.

Catherine Cho – Inferno Cho’s narrative records her terrifying descent into post-partum psychosis, a condition that is still misunderstood and under-researched.

Ruby Wax – I’m Not As Well As I thought I Was Wax has been at the forefront of normalizing extreme mental illness and this is partly written from her bed, recovering from another dreadful bout of depression. She reflects on the past and can’t resist littering her narrative with quips.


Oskana Masters — The Hard Bits Oskana’s little body suffered the ravages of the Chernobyl disaster. Abandoned by her parents at a children’s home, she was abused before her American mother adopted her and encouraged her (now) para-olympian sporting skills and extraordinary strength of mind.

Adam Kay – Undoctored This follow-up to his first memoir is more personal and candid about the author’s struggles with grief and an eating disorder while training, practicing and leaving medicine.

Sylvia Lasquez Lavado – In the Shadow of the Mountain Lavado’s resilience cut both ways: tough on the outside, it meant repressing the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Climbing Everest was one of many sources of her healing.

Digene Farrar – My Secret to Keep This candid account of child abuse and the author’s courageous efforts to heal brings her relationship to her body to focus – from dissociation to integration.

Rob Henderson – Troubled Taken into foster-care after his drug-addicted mother couldn’t care for him, Henderson was eventually adopted by a family that fell apart. His intellectual gifts got him to Yale and Cambridge, where he rubs up against privileged peers and a prizing of academic achievement over nurture.

Stephanie Foo – What My Bones Know The accomplished radio producer explores her diagnosis of complex PTSD with trademark curiosity, thorough research and candour.

Tara Westover – Educated Westover escapes from an abusive family system through separation and education.


Ariel Leve – An Abbreviated Life Leve’s mother’s extreme narcissism took my breath away at times and reminded me of Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest. Leah McLaren – Where You End and I Begin explores the complex relationship between a daughter and troubled mother who set no boundaries.

Infertility & Pregnancy Loss

Miranda Ward – Adrift A moving memoir of infertility and the redemptive power of swimming. Jessica Hepburn – The Pursuit of Motherhood A leading light in fertility awareness, the author’s attempts to conceive and the repeated dashing of hopes has become a seminal work. Jennie Agg – Life, Almost A brilliant exploration of the experience of miscarriage and its relegated nature amongst research and medicine (Agg kindly refers to my own memoir on the same subject The Brink of Being – talking about miscarriage)

Emilie Pine – Notes to Self A collection of powerful essays, exploring the shame of growing up with a female body, alcoholism, miscarriage and a troubled adolescence.

Women’s reproductive lives

Abby Norman – Ask Me About My Uterus Norman was one of the first to scream loudly at the dreadful care and understanding of the life-limiting endometriosis she suffered. Eleanor Morgan – Hormonal Morgan weaves her personal experience of pain and distress with the historical relegation of women’s health.


Jessica Cornwell – Birth Notes Becoming dangerously ill after giving birth to twins, Cornwell physically recovers but faces old traumas becoming re-activated.

The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson This extraordinary work (with one of the most beautiful birth scenes in particular) narrates the slow growth of pregnancy and parenthood and the author’s partner transition.