Dr. B’s Bookshelf


Here is a full listing of the books on my bookshelf that I lend out as part of my coaching. I make it a habit to loan books from my collection to address specific issues in the workplace.

The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga by Fumitake Koga


I’m a skeptic at heart when I hear about exaggerated claims to psychotherapies be they old or new.   This past week, two came into view. The first arrived in the form of a book from a client extolling Adlerian therapy -The Courage to be Disliked By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. The second, Compassion Therapy derived from a student’s presentation in my McGill class.


I enjoyed reading the Adlerian book partially because of the novel format involving a compelling dialogue between a young man and a philosopher who outlined the theory and practice of Adlerian therapy. The book was a trove of great ideas expressed in catchy lines such as:


“ resistance to change is nothing more than inertia” or


“Being a slave to one’s temptations and impulses is like living like a stone rolling downhill, real freedom is like pushing up one’s tumbling self from below.”


I had always liked Adler’s ideas in contrast to Freud since I think that we are creatures more driven by striving – what Adler calls a sense of superiority” than by Freudian drives of aggression and sex. In addition, all CBT therapists owe a debt of gratitude to Adler’s pioneering ideas on constructivism where every event, including trauma, gains meaning through a personal, and therefore an alterable lens of perception.


Further parallels with CBT are reflected in the book’s title – The Courage to be Disliked- expressing the underlying importance of self direction:


If you are disliked by others, it proves that you are living a life of freedom. Freedom is being unconcerned about the judgments of others, one has no fear of being disliked by others.


However, the authors infer that their approach is not only right but universally applicable to all problems in living.


Nice idea if it were true – perhaps then clinical training of doctoral students could be considerably contracted to maybe a handful of books. But in my experience, striving for yourself while letting others, including children, learn to strive for themselves, not be core issues in each and every client.


Shortly after finishing the book, a student in my McGill seminar educated me in Compassion Focused Therapy espoused by Dr. Gilbert. Acolytes to this approach were very clear about their path to therapeutic success. Get clients to forgive themselves and others, and you’re pretty much done.


I have selected just two therapy schools-but in reality there are hundreds with the proponents of each claiming novelty and revolutionary results. Ardent Adlerians or caring compassionants are only the tip of the iceberg but each offers only a limited view and range of interventions.


In my experience no one therapy or approach covers the problems that I see in my practice. In contrast, I try to draw upon all areas of psychology from neuroscience to sports psychology to draw upon ideas that might fit the problem at hand. I try to first listen and then pick the theory and technique that might work – not the other way around where clients are often ill-fitted to procrustean beds of compatibility.


This generalist approach might not have a marketable name but I worry that over specialization presents its unique pitfalls.


Get the Truth by Philip Houston et al

I don’t work for the CIA but…


Following a client’s recommendation, I acquired, read and rather uneasily digested Houston and company’s recent bestseller on interview interrogation techniques -Get the Truth. The authors, ex-CIA agents specialized in integration-the verbal, not the water board kind-have written a highly readable and comprehensive “how-to-do-it” book to get the truth from suspected criminal perpetrators or would-be terrorists.


The topic is fascinating, but not the sort of thing that I thought was highly relevant for my private practice in executive coaching. Hence the “indigestion” as I kept repeating to myself throughout the book: “Funny, I do that too.”


I know that I’m not trying to get confessions. Most of my clients honestly communicate with me and any “therapeutic resistance” comes from the natural difficulties trying to change long-term habits. More importantly, none of my clients are bad guys. But, that’s one of the key take-away points from the book. The interrogators don’t react to the suspected child molesters or subway bombers as bad guys either.


In contrast, they seek to understand and even normalize what they hear. Here’s their description of the process:


Understand the reason, the natural or normal reasons, that led someone to perform a criminal act without labeling the act as criminal, deviant or treacherous … socialize the situation.”


I do this all the time in my CBT therapy which is based upon the notion that even the most pernicious of maladaptive behaviors is often developed through a process of normal learning, whether it be modeling, escape from anxiety or peer reward.


The CIA approach is rich in contextual empathy and understanding. In fact, if you change some of the nouns in the numerous example transcripts, for example, from “plant a bomb” to “plant doubt”, you might think that you reading the transcript of some client-centered therapy. Feeling and expressing empathy with phrases such as “I know that this must be embarrassing for you” are far removed from the my initial image of the spot-lit perp being peppered with leading questions in a holding cell.


As with so many CBT techniques, Miller’s Motivation Interviewing being a prominent example, confrontation is verboten. Again, here’s a prescriptive quote: “maintain a non-coercive, non-adversarial demeanor throughout the interview.”


Although not exactly using classic CBT terminology, the authors obviously know something about depression and the self-criticalness that comes with it.


Although not using terminology such as “attributional style,” again the authors borrow from a CBT therapist manual to work with subjects to get them to see that maybe something other than their own negative core might have motivated their action. In their words



we have found it very effective in a monologue to convey to the person the notion that whatever it is he did, it is not entirely his fault. Whose fault is it? Society’s. the school’s, the system’s.


I could go on to cite more eerie parallels such as their attention to situational details, a methodical attention to events surrounding a critical decision, interviewing in a semi-structured way that emphasizes time-lines etc. However, there’s one key difference – their work ends with a confession, I like to provide on-going follow-up.




Good Boss: Bad Boss by Robert Sutton


At a recent California psychology conference, I found myself in a long line of post-talk attendees hoping to speak to the renowned speaker, and former professor of mine, Dr Don Meichenbaum.


Some forty years ago, I was lucky enough to be in a small group of doctoral students in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo that managed to hire leading psychologists of the day. Forty years later, I remember the excitement and passion that Don generated in his seminars with his paradigm breaking work on the importance of self-talk in his new of 1974 treatment approach, cognitive behavior therapy.


In my own teaching at McGill, I quote Dr. Meichenbaum frequently. Therefore, it was somewhat of a shock when I got to the front of the line to see Don’s eyes first scan my face, then quickly my nametag and then back to my face without showing any sign of obvious recognition. After several awkward phrases, break-through recognition was achieved, or at least satisfactorily feigned. As I left the hall in a somewhat sober mood, two young people approached me with enthusiastic “Hello Dr Bradley, good to see you here” comments. I drew a blank. After giving countless undergraduate and graduate courses, I had no idea whom I was talking to.


All this came together when I read Professor Sutton’s latest book: “Good Boss, Bad Boss” that in my opinion is a must-read for any of the twenty-one million North Americans who call themself a boss. The book is chuck-full of helpful hints about managing people, work and time. It’s a crucial read since bad bosses, the topic of Sutton’s first book, are abundant. In fact, apparently 27% of workers would fire their current one if they had the power. But instead of hammering away at the damage caused by lousy bosses, Sutton stresses the benefits of balancing compassion with results, of creating a psychologically safe working space where creativity flourishes and when required, apologies are given.


And, to tie in to my convention story, here’s what Sutton says about just one of many helpful tips to be a good a boss, leader or teacher:


“ If you get up form your desk people watch to see where you are going, someone always knows when you are in the bathroom. They watch your face when the VP of production leaves your office and make a guess about the meaning of your expression. They watch to see if you smile more at Sally than you do at Tom, and make guesses about what that means too. They learn to read your “tells’ –the way you drum your fingers when you are impatient or the eyebrow you raise just before you cut off someone’s explanation You are constantly on your team’s radar. They see and hear everything that you do.”


But here’s the rub: Some bosses or people at the top become oblivious to this public regard. Due to excessive hubris or self-centeredness, they carelessly talk in front of secretaries, talk about patients or employees in corridors where others can hear, etc. Most importantly, they fail at being great models. If you’re a boss, know that you’re always on-stage even to an audience of people you might not know or remember.






The Asshole Survival Guide by Robert Sutton

The catchy title perhaps belies the academic credentials behind the scholarly author of this very quotable book on coping with demeaning or critical bosses. Robert Sutton is a professor of Management Studies at Stanford and an author of numerous books on management, organizations and business psychology. Although not his latest book, The Asshole Survival Guide is a book that I recommend to many of my coaching clients beleaguered by bosses who shouldn’t be bosses.


The eye-popping research illustrating the nefarious effect of demeaning, critical or abusive management on health, creativity and even bottom-line performance of the subordinate workers and their organizations grabs the reader’s attention from the beginning. Thankfully, Sutton moves on to providing the rationale and specifics of numerous coping techniques from distancing oneself, fighting back, cognitive reappraisal and even revenge. Be careful about the later, since revenge often produces longer term negative rumination in the perpetrator than in the target.


If you’re depressed from negative interactions with your boss, or helping people who are, this is the book for you or them

The Courage Solution by Mindy Mackenzie

I must admit that I had some serious doubts about this thin book with its all-too catchy title. As a university professor who believes in empirically justified everything, my doubts were fueled by the author’s introduction proudly proclaiming that the books reflects a “non-theoretical or non-research based perspective.”

Boy, was my initial judgment wrong. In fact, if I had to recommend one, and only one, book for young people starting their corporate careers, this would it.

Mindy Mackenzie condenses her wealth of business and leadership experience into easy to read and remember key points that HR’s orientation will never discuss. Career building keys such as getting a good read on your boss, knowing how your company makes money as well as recognizing your strengths and weaknesses are only some of the relevant themes tackled.

Along the way, Mackenzie lays out a buffet-spread of handy interpersonal axioms to deal with tough situations such as delivering critical feedback, disagreeing with your boss and developing wide social networks. Although I stressed how valuable this book could be to young workers, those seeking to better their relationships with their own boss – that covers almost everyone- can also benefit from the many helpful and practical tips offered in this excellent book.

Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance

Jason Selk

There is a considerable literature on goal attainment with multiple books providing tips on how to stay focused, measure progress and even celebrate achievement. I will not provide the reader with yet another creative decoding of the SMART acronym. However, in Executive Toughness not much text is devoted to these concepts.

I thought of this paradox, as I read Jason Selk’s book on executive toughness and remembered my first day on the job some thirty years ago as the newly installed Chief Psychologist of a major hospital in Montreal. I remember being struck by the enormity and barrenness of my new office that contained nothing offer than a large desk with a solitary phone. Although I had passed a rigorous selection process to get this job, I really had no clue about what a chief psychologist actually did.

I secretly hoped that that phone would on day ring and someone would tell me what to do.

Here’s what Selk says about that process:

… most of us spend our life waiting; waiting for the next big idea; waiting for a promotion, the next reorg, never realizing the importance of deciding what it is we need to do ourselves to achieve our goals… we must define your own win.” 

Besides helping me establish my own goals, I could have benefited from Selk’s book because after defining my goals I would have formally written them down and reviewed my progress to their attainment on a regular basis- activities that are major determinants of goal success. Along the way, I would have also learned about the importance of defining process versus outcome goals since both are necessary for success. Knowing what you want without knowing how to get there, doesn’t really help that much.

Recognizing that the first step is always the hardest, Selk counsels readers to begin with an intermediate goal. If you want to make ten cold calls today then start with a goal of three and then let the resulting momentum carry you forward to the last seven.

I’m not sure that this book will make executives emotionally tougher, but if toughness flows from successful accomplishments, then this book is a great start.

It deserves a spot on your bookshelf.


The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

To reduce visual stress read this simple and motivating tidying-up book with its many helpful hints such as 1) clean-up everything at once, 2) get rid of items that don’t bring pleasure and 3) ensure that every item has a particular storage place.


Happiness Advantage by Shawn Archor

This is a great book on so many fronts not the least of which involves goal-setting; here are some of Shawn’s tips:

#1 Start with a positive frame of mind

#2 Note all the resources at your disposition

#3 List all the possible routes to achieve that goal

#4 Since effort is dramatically increased as you approach the goal, start subjectively closer to your goal. Shorten your time perspective, what do you want to do in the next week

#5 Decrease the sense of competition see yourself at the top of a small pool than the middle of large one

#6 Stay focused on the goal and recognize the signal.



How of Happiness by Dr Sonya Lyubomirsky

I’m always suspicious about psychology books that prescribe the path of happiness. What do we know about happiness more than writers, philosophers or even bartenders. Turns out, a lot, and all of what UC Riverside psychology professor, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book endorses is backed by strong experimental evidence. It really does work, she can prove it in this book that scans every from achievement to zootherapy.


What’s in it for the psychology of work, well lots starting from a definition of happiness as something based on activity – “t’s a running stream not a stagnant pool.” Whole sections are devoted to making our work life more satisfying including how to move on from mistakes, not getting catch-up in self-defeating comparisons, and staying focused but being open to new experiences.


Genre: happiness, positive psychology, work place psychology