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Williston, VT

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My Favorite Books to Help with PTSD

Five books sitting on a shelf

In my darkest days with PTSD, reading was a big part of the healing process. Today I’m sharing the books to that were most helpful to me. I’d love to hear what books helped you through a tough time in the comments below.

Of course books can help with PTSD but only as part of a larger treatment plan. For me that plan included weekly therapy, work with a life coach, daily exercise, daily mediation, daily yoga and more. I wrote about that in detail in a separate post.

Purple iris in Williston, VT.
My photography is an ongoing mindfulness practice that I love to share.

This is not intended to be a thorough review of books to help with PTSD. These are the most helpful books that came into my life while I was struggling.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD

This is the book for lay readers that explains the science of how the brain and body change in response to trauma. It was an informative though heavy read. For me, understanding why and how my brain had changed gave me the space to renegotiate my path in the world and embrace therapies and lifestyle changes that ultimately have been very healing.

I recommend this on a “when you are ready” basis and encourage you to take the time you need to read it. I read it in bursts. Sometimes I just had to know as much as I could. Sometimes, I got flooded and needed to step away for a few days. Sharing what I was learning with my husband helped him understand me and brought us closer in new ways. Reading this to help a friend or family member struggling with PTSD would be a beautiful act of love.

I would issue a trigger warning for all readers as this is a book about trauma survivors. However, Dr. Van Der Kolk does not share graphic information any more than is needed to explain the concepts.

Kate Farrell writes about books to help with PTSD.
Me during a difficult time (summer 2019). Photo credit: Nate Kokinda

Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.

Dr. Shapiro figured out Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a lifesaving genius. This was the perfect book to be reading at home as I was beginning EMDR in therapy.

There is a chapter called “From Stressed to Better than Well” that left me feeling both hopeful and thinking, “Yeah right!”

Life is not about getting rid of suffering. It’s about expanding our potential while embracing feelings of joy and well-being.

Getting Past Your Past, page 247

I’ve learned that is actually possible. Maybe not everyday, but certainly often!

Peonies in early spring near Burlington, Vermont.
Observing and photographing my peonies each spring connects me to nature’s time line.

The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I picked this up at the library and dove right in. After about five pages, I knew I wanted to be able to put sticky notes on my favorite quotes so I immediately ordered a copy. I’m here to say that my copy has over 50 sticky notes and is on my “To Read Again” list!

This isn’t a book to help with PTSD so much as a book to help with stress. I read this long before COVID-19 even existed and I’m sure it has helped me navigate these pandemic times. In fact, I recently reconnected with a friend who happened to be mid way through this book and is finding it very helpful during these challenging times.

Kate Farrell reading The Book of Joy while holding her sleeping daughter.
When my then three year old daughter fell asleep in my arms, I held her while I read The Book of Joy. Even the most difficult of times are punctuated by moments of pure joy, love and trust. Photo credit: Nate Kokinda

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

I knew basically nothing about mediation before I developed PTSD. When I looked for books about PTSD, mediation came up over and over again. This is a go to guide on how to mediate. It helped me learn both why and how to meditate.

Personally, I found that guided meditations have been more helpful (Insight Timer is the app I use) than self directed mediations. However, this is on my “Books to Revisit” list. I’ve got about 75 sticky notes on my copy and I think it would be wise to go back and try some of the ideas now that I’ve got lots more experience with both mediation and yoga.

I had used photography as a mindful practice (and even wrote about that here!) before I understood mindfulness. No doubt this made me a better human and a better photographer!

Salmon colored peonies getting ready to pop in Williston, Vermont.
My peonies getting ready to announce summer’s arrival.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

When I no longer met the criteria for PTSD, I still wasn’t quite at the “Better than Well” stage of being. I found myself drawn to books about people whose lives had been shaken unexpectedly. How did others recover and grow through life’s headwinds?

I read this during a dark and cold Vermont winter with Silva, my aging dog, snuggled beside me. I would tune out from news about the pandemic and worries about my own path forward to be inspired by Katherine May’s path through her own challenges. I know I wrote some healing journal entries late at night after reading passages from this book.

An old chocolate lab on a winter hike in northern Vermont.
Silva, her name meant forest in Latin. On our many hikes together, she showed me how to grow through the headwinds of life.
An old chocolate lab rests on a couch. The dog was Kate's buddy while she read books to help with PTSD.
Silva, shown here in her role as my wintering and reading buddy.

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change by Maggie Smith

Before covid, while I still had PTSD, I was on one of many bike rides by myself. These were quiet times for me to pedal it out, think things through and gather myself until the next ride. On this particular warm summer day, my route overlapped with a man about 30 years my senior for a few miles. He told me lots of stories about group rides in the 1980’s on roads that are now way to busy for bikes and while I chatted with him, I forgot for a little while about the trauma that had taken over my life.

I commented on how I thought it was cool that he was still getting out to ride so much, even well into his retirement. Without missing a beat he told me, “You’ve got to be like a shark! Keep moving? You know a shark can’t breathe if they stop moving, don’t you? People don’t do well either if they stop moving.”

I don’t think I even had time to comment before he said, “Well, nice riding with you. This is my turn!”

Those words stuck with me. They were on a sticky note at the top of my computer monitor all summer.

A preschool girl on a strider bike with her old chocolate lab beside her on a sunny spring day in Chittenden County, Vermont.
My baby on her “like-a-bike” and Silva. There were many days that Silva kept me moving and my only motivation to keep going was to be a good enough mom.

When Katrina Kenison recommended Keep Moving in her winter newsletter, I knew I needed this book. I was right. Each essay and poem was an experience like the one I had on my bike. Great brain and soul food. Perfect pre-journal reading. A book to help with PTSD or any of life’s other miseries.

Questions and Thoughts about Books to Help with PTSD?

What’s your favorite book to help with PTSD and why?!

Do you have a favorite book about living mindfully?

I’d love to hear from you. Please respond in the comments below, email me or reach out through the “Let’s Get Started” button in the upper right.

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Kate Farrell is a professional lifestyle family photographer based in Williston, Vermont, serving the greater Chittenden County area.