counselling psychotherapy

Women’s Health

20 Powerful Books to Help You Befriend Your Body

Do you remember the last time you felt at home in your body?

Increasingly, many of us feel a sense of alienation, disconnection, a lack of safety, and insecurity within our bodies. At the core, this sense of dis-ease can often be the result of early childhood attachment and interpersonal ruptures, emotional neglect and/or trauma. In The Body Keeps the Score – a powerful book for befriending the body, Bessel van der Kolk writes,

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

This profound sense of disconnection from our deeper selves is the underlying force and a major contributing factor to a myriad of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual disturbances and symptoms, including: addictions, anxiety, depression, food, body and weight concerns, eating disorders, health problems, a lack of self-worth, and relationship issues. Van der Kolk goes on to say…

“…child abuse and neglect is the single most preventable cause of mental illness, the single most common cause of drug and alcohol abuse, and a significant contributor to leading causes of death such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and suicide.”

In The Body Never Lies,  Alice Miller writes,

“Frequently, physical illnesses are the body’s response to permanent disregard of its vital functions. One of our most vital functions is an ability to listen to the true story of our own lives.”

When we don’t listen to the true story of our own lives – via our body, feelings, mind and soul – our deeper self will continue to call us through our symptoms. Our symptoms often seek to be seen and heard until we become conscious, pay attention and take action. One way we can do that, is to befriend our bodies.

Here are 20 powerful books which can help us to deepen our relationship with, and befriend our bodies.

The recommendations here are from psychotherapists and health professionals from around the globe, and who are helping their clients heal the split between soma and soul.

Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) by Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

If you are self-medicating with food, have body-blame and shame, they may be linked to childhood emotional neglect (CEN).

This is an excellent book to start the journey of becoming friends with your body by increasing self-awareness and healing internal wounds caused by childhood emotional neglect.

The first part of the book helps you to understand how different parenting styles may lead to childhood emotional neglect. This is not to blame parents but to help you to understand your experience. Dr Webb lists symptoms often experienced by individuals whose parental figure(s) have not been emotionally available when growing up. She then gives suggestions and exercises for helping you to understand your emotions and start healing from CEN.

I really enjoyed this book that acknowledges the impact of childhood emotional neglect which is often difficult to understand because it looks at an absence of something rather than a traumatic event. The use of case examples really brings to life the impact of different parenting styles on emotional well-being and it provides great tools for increasing self-awareness. I have recommended this book to many professionals and clients.

Dr Mari Kovanen, Counselling Psychologist, London, UK

TOUCH The Neurobiology of Health, Healing, and Human Connection by Michael Changaris, Psy.D.

With safe contained touch, a child can begin to orient to the world and integrate proprioception and other sensations.

Touch plays an important role in our ability to self regulate because, along with sensation, it is our first language. The parent cannot always provide exactly what a child needs and this will ultimately create ruptures. Constant ruptures without repair can shrinks a person’s innate capacity to occupy their body and be able to feel and regulate their emotions. As adults, this inevitably leads to difficulty in relating and connecting safely with others.

This book highlights touch from many perspectives, some of which include culture, attachment theory, and the mental health arena. It also offers some helpful tools and homework. The author explains how touch can transform a person’s fight / flight response through engaging their ventral vagal system, which is not dissimilar from a mother’s containment when holding her baby.

The author credits many influences, highlighting Allan Schore & Peter Levine as his teachers along with Bessel Van der Kolk, Steven Porges and Robert Scare as some of the leaders in this field. I enjoyed how easily Dr. Changaris has woven in quality research that validates how touch is vital for human health and healing. For me this book is for those who want a deeper insight into the benefits of touch and its broader applications in a therapeutic context.

Amanda Howe, Somatic Experiencing, Relational and Body Psychotherapist – St Leonards and Mona Vale, Sydney, Australia

I Know I’m in There Somewhere by Helene G Brenner, Ph.D.

A woman’s guide to finding her inner voice and living a life of authenticity.

Many of us, without even realising we’re doing it, adapt ourselves to fit around the important others in our life (and even around what the media tell us we ‘should’ be like). It’s such an accepted part of being a woman, that the process can be almost invisible.

But the trouble is, that in the process of being (or trying to be) who others think you should be, you may feel like you’ve lost touch with who you actually are, what you feel, and what you really want in life. This book offers a new approach to understanding yourself, and helps you figure out what ‘being yourself’ actually means. Brenner teaches you how to use self-acceptance and awareness of body-based feelings, so that you can learn how to identify, trust and follow your true inner wisdom and guidance.

You’ll learn how to make friends with your body and your inner self, access your spirituality and your emotions, and live a life that feels real and truthful to the messy, glorious and unique reality of who you are.

Emma Cameron, Integrative Arts Psychotherapist – Colchester, UK

Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams by Eugene T. Gendlin

This is an excellent guide for those who are just beginning to work with their dreams as well as those who are more experienced and familiar with dream interpretation. The book consists of 16 questions that support the dreamer in the process of interpreting their dreams.  Dr. Gendlin breaks down how to ask each question so that your body responds.  By paying attention to your body’s responses you can discern 1) if you are connecting with the dream’s meaning; and 2) interpret what the dream is trying to tell you.

What I like best about this book is how Dr. Gendlin clearly and simply outlines the process of dream interpretation while still honoring the complexity and numinosity of dreams. This is why this is the top book I recommend for dream interpretation.  This book will resonate with 1) anyone who would like to learn how to interpret their dreams, and 2) those who would like to connect more deeply with their bodies and intuitive abilities.

Lourdes Viado Ph.D, Marriage and Family Therapist and Creator of Women In-Depth Podcast.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA.

If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you love it, savor it. – Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

Intuitive Eating is a book and program developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Intuitive Eating focuses on 10 principles designed to help us make peace with food. It takes away the guilt and shame associated with certain food choices. It gives skills to start paying attention to the body, in particular, our hunger and fullness.

These principles help you respect your body and nurture yourself with food instead of using it for reward or punishment. The principles normalize the urges around overeating and goes into the science behind our relationship with food.

This book helped me to befriend my body, it changed my life and I use it with every single client!

Michelle Lewis, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Owner/Therapist at Salt Lake Weight Counseling – Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Fat Yoga by Sarah Harry

All bodies are yoga bodies. – Sarah Harry

Yoga as a practice is over 4000 years old and the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits are countless.

This is a yoga book written by a fat yogini for all people who struggle to feel at home in the current yoga culture! Yoga is not just for teeny tiny bendy young things! It’s for everyone.

This book is to bring yoga to those who don’t look like the people on the cover of a yoga mag. Covering everything from “do real yogi’s drink wine” to “how do I stop my boobs from smooshing me” so you can get on with the important business of feeling more at home in your body.

It’s practical, straight talking and easy to follow advice about how to practice yoga and get into and out of postures at any size, leaving you with the skills to build a sustainable yoga practice in your own home.

This is the ultimate resource for those wanting to befriend their body through yoga!

Sarah Harry, Counsellor, Lecturer, Researcher, Yoga Teacher and Author. Sarah is also the co-director of Body Positive Australia – Melbourne, Australia

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Lindy West packs no punches when talking about what it’s like to be fat in a fat-shaming society.

Shrill is not a self-help book, but it will help anyone who struggles with befriending their body. West’s style is especially perfect for young women who will totally get on board with her language, manner, and the internet world she knows so well.

You may already know of West’s public storms with colleagues, comedy, and internet trolls, but the linking narrative between all these events, beginning with her childhood, is a sharp, funny and honest look at herself and the society we live in. You can literally feel the hurts and triumphs jumping off the page as she implores you to look through her eyes and experience the world as she does: a woman who is ‘not normal’ and refuses to be quiet about it. I could certainly relate.

The most extraordinary aspect of travelling away from ‘waiting to be thin’, is how she actions it. I was transfixed and inspired by the myriad of ways she exposes herself to fatness, and in the process teaches us all that we can, simply, choose what is beautiful:

“I reject the notion that thinness is the goal, that thin = better—that I am an unfinished thing and that my life can really start when I lose weight. That then I will be a real person and have finally succeeded as a woman. I am not going to waste another second of my life thinking about this.”  

I can’t promise that I won’t waste another second Lindy, but I sure am gonna try!

Nicole Hind,  Online Counsellor – Australia

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. – Brené Brown.   

Daring Greatly is Brené Brown’s third book and in my opinion her most powerful. In this book she explores our relationship with society’s scarcity culture, vulnerability and shame. In the current landscape of ‘never good enough, thin enough, young and beautiful enough’, Daring Greatly offers some practical ways of fighting back shame, and ways of nurturing your authentic self. She offers skills on how to practice shame resilience and how to befriend your body. The idea of stepping into the arena that runs through book is visceral and enticing. Brené really gets you connected to your body and to the idea that it is possible to show up, be seen, and live brave.

Andrea Szasz, Clinical Psychotherapist, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner & Trauma Specialist – Bondi & Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment by Pat Ogden & Janina Fisher 

The title may sound heavy and dry but this book is actually a treasure trove of information into befriending the body.

It contains insights into how our bodies hold memory and emotions. Ogden and Fisher teach us how to listen to the innate wisdom of our body, through being mindful of our bodily sensations.  Written as both a self-help and professional manual, it contains countless, practical exercises focused on befriending the body.  Such exercises guide us in: being mindful of our bodily sensations, appreciating our strengths, identifying how to support ourselves creatively, learning to ground and centre ourselves, breath work and body postures.

The entire book is really about tuning into the wisdom of our own body, in order to connect more fully with ourselves and in turn, others. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by their emotions, disconnected from themselves or others, anxious or depressed, or simply unsure of who they are.  Working through this book, helps to bring the whole of ourselves back into balance.

Toni Jackson, Psychotherapist & Counsellor – Perth, Western Australia

The Chakra Book: Energy and Healing Power of the Subtle Body by Osho

The word Chakra means moving wheel; points of whirling energy – close to our bodies.

According to many Eastern Spiritual traditions, chakras are recognised spiritual energy points that exist in the field just beyond our body in and around our aura. These centres are recognised in a variety of spiritual traditions and are known to exist beyond the physical plane. They exist in the ‘space between’ – ourselves and another – in the space beyond the actual physical body and exist in what some call the etheric body.

This book was an intriguing read and provides a deeper understanding of the following:

  • the relevance of spirituality and using the eastern traditions within psychotherapy
  • Japanese, Hindi and Buddhist understanding of the chakras
  • the subtle body experiences Kundalini and Tantra
  • chakra meditations which are particularly helpful for points of stuckness in body or mind
  • the healing power of chakra balancing

This wisdom can assist us to ensure we remain of right mind, have a healthy body and heart and live long and happy lives.

Ultimately, Osho encourages us to listen to our bodies and hearts – when we do this, we can’t go wrong!

Renee McDonald, Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Coach – Bulli, Australia

Wired For Love – How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build A Secure Relationship by Dr. Stan Tatkin

Understand your brain, improve your relationships.

As a relationship therapist with 20 years of practice behind me, I almost always recommend this book to couples because Wired for Love intelligently lifts the lid on how couples relate, offers innovative ways of understanding what’s actually happening in our brain, body, feelings and mind, and how to make the changes needed to get things back on track.

The book is all about bringing mindfulness and consciousness to our relationships and gaining an appreciation of how our brains operate in conflict. Our nervous system plays an important part in how couples “fight” and this book discusses some simple things like using our breath to calm our cardiovascular and respiratory systems so that arguments can be worked through “safely” and without threat.

For example, couples that have an awareness of how they soothe each other through touch, words, facial expression and body to body contact on greeting, can transform the nature of conflicts and learn to “fight fair”.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of how their body and brain impact their relationships, and who want to be able to say and express what they need, yet still create a safe environment for their relationships to grow.

Melissa Ferrari, Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist – Penrith, Sydney, Australia

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

We might begin by scanning our body . . . and then asking, “What is happening?” We might also ask, “What wants my attention right now?” or, “What is asking for acceptance? – Tara Brach

Radical Acceptance is an incredible book filled with wisdom from Tara Brach, who is not only a clinical psychologist but a meditation teacher as well.

This book is for anyone struggling with feelings of perpetual “unworthiness”.

Brach does a wonderful job of weaving in advice and guidance, personal antidotes from her own life and her work with her clients, along with guided meditations on self-acceptance and getting in touch with one’s true feelings (which may have been somatised in the body).

I have recommended this book to many of my clients in my own psychotherapy practice, and their response after reading this book is often, “I feel like she is saying exactly what I say to myself”. The idea of general unworthiness is an underlying thought that so many of us have, and it often leads to destructive behaviours such as eating disorders, addictions, and self-harm.

This book gently guides the reader to feel and accept their feelings, forgive themselves, and move in a direction of self-acceptance.

Radical Acceptance has proved to be extremely useful and effective in my practice working with people with eating disorders, as well as for myself, and my own journey towards befriending my body and cultivating qualities of self-love and self acceptance.

Melissa Preston, Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Dietitian – Denver, Colorado, USA

Rushing Woman’s Syndrome by Libby Weaver

Stop the rush and come home to your body.

Do you regularly find yourself tired but wired? Constantly rushing around to give more, do more be more and yet enough is never enough? Deep down you probably know you can’t sustain this pace for too much longer and your body is starting to give signals that enough is enough. If this is you, you’re not alone. I see this situation played out woman after woman in my practice. The woman’s mind is saying “I must”, and yet the woman’s body is saying, “no more!” New Zealand biochemist Dr Libby Weaver addresses this issue brilliantly in her book Rushing Woman’s Syndrome. She helps us as women to understand that more rushing dose not equal a happier life, in fact it’s a recipe for stress, anxiety and ultimately, if ignored long enough, sickness and disease.

This book was inspired by the struggle Libby saw in her practice that so many women are facing in juggling multiple roles and the internal and external demands to achieve and to please everyone. This book will give you clear, practical advice in how to get off the rush treadmill.  She gives us an experts tour of our bodies and the impacts the constant push-pull a frantic pace of life has on our health and well-being and offers a way out of the rush to come back home to the body. This book, in my view, is a must read for every modern women who is constantly feeling the pressure to do it all and yet longs for well-being, tranquillity and the ability to feel at peace in her own skin. I recommend this book to every one of my female clients who is looking to have a better relationship with herself and her body.

Marcia Watts, Relationships & Wellbeing Counsellor – Brisbane, Australia

The Language of Fertility: A Revolutionary Mind-Body Program for Conscious Conception by Niravi Payne, M.S

The mind and the emotions have the power to affect the body. – Niravi Payne.

From the minute an individual or couple is dianosed with ’infertility’, they are usurped into a medical whirlwind of tests and medical procedures. Little time is afforded for couples to stop and reflect on the deeper issues arising from their diagnosis or the underlying issues which may be interfering with their ability to conceive.

This soulful book explores the emotional and psychological factors that can be a barrier to conception. It delves deeply into family dynamics and generational beliefs and behaviours which may be impacting a couple’s inability to conceive.

The exercises in this book will help the reader to befriend the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual concerns that they may be struggling with around their fertility.

This is a hopeful book, which offers a mind-body approach to fertility and conscious conception. It is a must read for anyone struggling with fertility issues, and is a great accompaniement for those going through assisted conception and IVF treatment.

Robyn Wunder, Gestalt Psychotherapist and the founder of Donor Conception Counselling.

Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication by Paul Ekman

Emotions; we all have them, and sometimes we can be overwhelmed with the raw power of the things that we feel.

When this happens, we can feel confused, isolated and detached; even at war with ourselves. These strong emotions can be experienced within our minds, but given the close relationship between emotions and the body, the effect of these strong emotions can often be felt as overwhelming forces within our bodies as well.

Ekman, through helping us understand our emotions, grants us the prospect of coming to peace within ourselves. His book gives great insight into how our emotions develop, how they are expressed – and what we can do about them. His research over 20 years is notable for his focus on how emotion affects our bodies. When we better understand what we feel in our minds and our bodies and why we feel it, we are in a better position to accept, forgive and befriend ourselves. A critical part of this is how we can use this increased understanding to ultimately accept, forgive and befriend our bodies.

Tim Hill, Counsellor & Psychotherapist. Tim is also the founder of Beyond Porn Addiction  – Richmond, Victoria, Australia

Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon

You only have one body and despite how well you live your life, it may never change. Can you afford to hate yourself for the rest of your life? – Linda Bacon

This book is a must read for anyone who has ever been on a diet or who is a health professional telling others how to lose weight.  It is not another diet book. In fact, it is the opposite.  Linda recommends ditching the diet and learning to listen to and trust our own body wisdom.  Even better… the book advocates no more deprivation and no more guilt.  Sounds like a dream come true right?  Maybe too good to be true but in fact the Health at Every Size Programme (HAES) is based on a USA Government funded academic study.  In other words it’s science based and proven to work.

The book is in two parts. Part 1 is designed to educate & debunk many of the common weight loss myths.  The author, Dr Linda Bacon (PhD) provides logical & easy to follow reasoning which just makes perfect sense in explaining why dieting just doesn’t work.  Our bodies are actually geared to resist weight loss.  Part 2 of the book provides simple, practical step to help change your mindset and embrace the HAES principles into your life while re-introducing pleasure in food and saying goodbye to guilt, deprivation and diets.

It truly is a revelation & I now have it on the top of my list of recommended books for my clients with weight & body image concerns.

Pam Bailey, Feel Good Facilitator – Perth, Australia

The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup

Menopause is actually about coming home to yourself. – Christiane Northrup

This book was my bible while going through menopause and it is still a resource I check out every now and then. Initially, I thought I would read from the beginning to the end –  I started to do that but different symptoms kept popping up. In the end, I found the best way was to have the symptom and look it up, because things were happening too fast to read it from cover to cover.

I’d apparently been pre-menopausal for years but my doctor didn’t inform me of that. My husband was the first to notice the change in my mood – he thought I was manic/depressive. My moods must have driven him crazy! Like most women, my mother had never told me what menopause was like and I wasn’t prepared for the miserable stage of life I had found myself in. I was in a bookstore one day and this book practically jumped off the shelf at me.

The Wisdom of Menopause has 14 chapters, with fabulous titles. These are a few: Menopause Puts Your Life Under a Microscope; The Brain Catches Fire at Menopause; Nurturing Your Brain, Sleep, Depression and Memory; Sex and Menopause- Myths and Reality.

This book is packed with practical information on how to befriend the body and simple explanations on how to make changes to lifestyle. My life was changed forever!

I highly recommend this book to all women and their daughters. Read it as a book club, read it with friends, don’t be afraid of menopause, make it your friend and live the life you deserve.

Cait Wotherspoon, Psychotherapist Specialising in Grief, Loss and Bereavement  – Penrith, Sydney, Australia

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling by Dr. Anita Johnston Ph.D.

Recovery from disordered eating calls for a new way of relating to our femail bodies, one that honors and values what they have to offer us. It requires that we appreciate what it means to come into the body of a woman. – Anita Johnston.

Dr Anita Johnston discusses a range of concerns related to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating through the creative use of myths and storytelling.  This is not your usual self-help book – it is much deeper than that – it is full of soul!

Clients often comment that this book helped them not only to befriend their bodies and change their relationship with food, but it also helped them to transform their lives.

The chapters are short and since much of the book is told through myths or stories, it is much easier to relate to than a dry, medical book about these topics.

It’s hard to articulate how powerful the chapters are but trust me – review after review also states similar sentiments.  I feel this is the best book out there for women to explore the relationship they have with food and their body.

Megan Bearce, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist – Minneapolis, MN, USA

Sweat Your Prayers: The Five Rhythms of the Soul — Movement as Spiritual Practice by Gabrielle Roth

5Rhythms is a dynamic movement practice—a practice of being in your body—that ignites creativity, connection, and community. – Gabrielle Roth.

In Sweat Your Prayers, Gabrielle Roth, provides the reader with a deeper understanding of her dance practice, 5 Rhythms, which is a combination of psychology, spirituality and body movement. She offers a journey through the five universal rhythms: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness. Roth teaches us how the rhythms can free the body and spirit from ordinary realms and generate motion deep within the psyche. Each sacred rhythm is a teacher and a gateway to the soul.

This book is full of wisdom for befriending your body and healing the mind-body split. Once you have read Sweat Your Prayers, find a class near you!

Kylie Beatie, Managing Director at Byron Private Holistic Treatment Centre – Byron Bay, Australia

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass

…To fully heal, this release needs to happen in your body as well. – Ellen Bass

The Courage to Heal and the accompanying workbooks have been an invaluable resource to all the woman survivors of child sexual abuse that I have known, and, unfortunately, there are many. Throughout the book, stories of fellow survivors assure women that that they are not alone, and that healing is possible.

The chapter on “Learning to Live in Your Body” includes the relationship among body, mind and spirit, and exercises on moving from hating your body to befriending your body; how to come back into your body when you’ve been triggered; grounding; and moving from numbness to feeling, among others. I highly recommend this book.

Renee Beck, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Clinical Consultant & Supervisor – Oakland, California, USA

Women, Food & God Coloring Book by Geneen Roth

The problem isn’t that we have bodies; the problem is that we are not living in them. Sigh. – Geneen Roth.

Having attended a week-long retreat with Geneen in 2016, I just had to share her first colouring in book!

The Women Food and God Coloring Book is full of enchanting black and white illustrations to colour in, relax and integrate the wisdom of Geneen’s #1 New York Times bestseller, Women, Food & God.

Many people who struggle with addictions and eating disorders often act out when they are angry, anxious, bored, sad or stressed. I love that this book is a practical tool which can used for self-soothing and self-care. It is also a guide for deeper contemplation and discovery of what is going on beneath the symptoms and at a deeper soul level.

For anyone suffering with food, weight and body image concerns, this book will help you to befriend your body (and soul).

Jodie Gale, Blog Author, Soul-Centred Psychotherapist + Eating Psychology Specialist, Private Practice Business Coach – Allambie, Frenchs Forest & Manly, Sydney, Australia

About Jodie

Jodie’s journey to become a soul-centred psychotherapist + eating psychology specialist began with her own recovery from bulimia over 20 years ago. She now works in private practice in Sydney, Australia and is the Disordered Eating Consultant for Byron Private Holistic Treatment Centre and former Assistant Clinical Director of a Sydney Eating Disorder Outpatient Treatment Program in consultation with Dr Anita Johnston. Jodie’s extensive work experience in the eating disorder field includes stints at the Eating Disorder Association of NSW (now The Butterfly Foundation) and in the Eating Disorder and Feeding Unit of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. She regularly appears online, in print and on National radio regarding her work with women and disordered eating. Jodie’s first eBook, ‘Befriending Your Body’ will be out later this year – sign up here to be the first to receive a free copy.

Let your light shine and live the life you have always dreamed of! Contact me now to book your first appointment.