How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind book cover

What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

In this book, journalist Michael Pollan explains the history, science, and research of psychedelics as well as his own personal experiences. It is part science book and part personal journey/memoir. Pollan clearly has his biases when it comes to spiritual and mystical matters, but he does his best to set these aside (along with his neurotic tendencies) in exploring new ideas. This following quote from his website sums it up well:

But what I didn’t expect when I embarked on this journey was for it to result in what is surely the most personal book I’ve ever written. I like to immerse myself in whatever subject I’m reporting—whether that means buying a steer to understand the meat industry or apprenticing myself to a baker to understand bread. What began as a third-person journalistic inquiry ended up a first-person quest to learn what these medicines had to teach me about not only the mind but also my mind, and specifically about the nature of spiritual experience. This book has taken me places I’ve never been—indeed, places I didn’t know existed.

Michael Pollan – website


The cultural history of psychedelic substances – Many cultures throughout history have incorporated psychedelics into aspects of religious life and spiritual practices. Mr Pollan traces the history of some of these in various indigenous cultures.

Early scientific research on psychedelics – The history of LSD and the promising research on it for treating mental health conditions, substance abuse, and more in the 1950s and 1960s.

Countercultural revolution and the fallout – Timothy Leary and the culture wars are discussed and how this lead to political fallout and the abandonment of research on LSD and other psychedelic substances.

Transcendent experiences – The author explains the renewed interest and research on psychedelics and his own experiences under the influence. This is where the book shifts a bit from strictly science journalism into a more memoir-style.


I really liked this book. It will likely inform and challenge you. The author clearly has his own biases about spiritual and mystical matters, but he’s willing to explore areas that he once completely neglected. I give him major credit for that. He’s also a talented writer, so it’s not a difficult read or overly scientific. It’s definitely appropriate for the Eclectic Reading List.

You can learn more about the author and this book on his website. Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book. Below is a video from a presentation at Google about his book and the topic of psychedelics.

Featured image from Penguin Random House.


Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

turtles all the way down book cover john green

A young adult novel about life, love, and living with mental illness

You might be tempted to skip over this book because it is classified as a “young adult” novel. Please take a moment to let me explain not only why I really love this book, but also why I think it is an important book to read. The world is overflowing with young adult coming of age novels that are filled with cliches, cheesy teen romances, and neat, happy endings – this isn’t one of those books.

Aza, the protagonist, struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. The author does a fantastic job of taking you on a journey to help you see and feel what it is like to live with a mental illness. It is a very personal and vulnerable book, as well as a good story. Consider this quote from a review of the book:

“In an age where troubling events happen almost weekly, this deeply empathetic novel about learning to live with demons and love one’s imperfect self is timely and important.”

Publishers Weekly


Mental illness – the main character struggles with intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions. She knows the obsessions and compulsions are irrational, but has difficulty controlling them.

The self – who are you at your core? What makes you, you? These questions are asked again and again by different characters in different ways.

Grief – characters in the book deal with grief in different ways. Some are more socially acceptable and healthier than others.


I love this book. I can relate to it. If you know someone who struggles with mental illness, maybe this book will help you to have a better understanding of what it feels like to be in their shoes. Maybe you are the one who struggles and this book will help you to feel like you’re not alone in the world. The characters are rough around the edges, the relationships complicated, and the pain and grief are real. And I love it for that.

Learn more about the author and this book on his website. Here’s the Wiki link to this book.

Lastly, if you are struggling with mental illness and/or mental health issues, please know that help and hope are possible. Here are some resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: get help right now by calling 800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness: find support groups and helpful info

To Write Love On Her Arms: finding hope and help through story sharing

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk

the body keeps the score book cover

Exploring the neuroscience of the brain-body connection in mental health

In “The Body Keeps the Score”, Dr Bessel van der Kolk shares what he’s learned as a researcher and mental health professional in caring for patients who have experienced trauma. The author covers the medical history of how we have treated those dealing with mental health conditions, what we’ve learned along the way, and he shares many patient stories that help to illustrate the topic.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably
​the single most important aspect of mental health;
safe connections are fundamental to
meaningful and satisfying lives.”

“Neuroscience research shows that
the only way we can change ​the way we feel
is by becoming aware of our inner experience
​and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” ​

Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Trigger warning: this book doesn’t go into graphic detail, but it does cover topics that may be disturbing to some readers who have experienced trauma. For example, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are discussed, as is addiction and self-harm.

Topics Discussed

Adverse Childhood Experiences – also known as ACEs and discussed in a previously reviewed book Supernormal – are traumatic events or lived experience of abuse and neglect throughout childhood. The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to develop chronic conditions (mental and physical) later in life. Dr van der Kolk pays special attention to how this relates to psychiatric diseases like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The Science of Trauma – Dr. van der Kolk goes over the history of how our understanding of trauma has changed over the years, including the neuroscience of how the brain processes threats, danger, abuse, and trauma. The development of advanced imaging techniques (fMRI and PET scans) has allowed scientists to see which parts of the brain are over or underactive during various mental states.

Treatment Options For Psychiatric Disorders

Talk Therapy – the ability to talk about our experiences and problems has been shown to help many people. Perhaps the more studied of these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but there are many others that are covered in the book.

Yoga – connecting with your bodily senses in a meaningful way is what yoga is all about. This is a way to integrate physical activity into healing the mind.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – this type of therapy uses eye movement while processing negative events from your life (trauma) and the feelings and emotions connected to it.

Internal Family Systems – also known as Self Leadership, is a system of therapy that helps you to look at how your conscious mind is a collection of sub-personalities. IFS can be used to evaluate each perspective/personality in the system and address negative, harmful, overly critical, or violent ones. (I didn’t do a very good job of explaining it here, which is why you should read the chapter about it!)

Neurofeedback – this type of treatment uses electrodes on your head to detect the electrical signals happening in your brain. With these on, the patient then goes through guided imagery to learn how to engage parts of the brain that are helpful for focusing attention, calming anxiety, and processing emotions.


This is a really, really important book that I highly recommend. I appreciate how the author explains the science and research while mixing in patient stories to help illustrate the concepts and topics. Some of the patient stories were too painful for me to read and I’m guessing that anyone with a history of trauma or abuse may have a similar experience. I especially recommend this book to anyone who works in healthcare and for those who have friends or family that have experienced trauma.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Click this link to go to the author’s website.