Best books for psychiatry residents

Below are my categorized and annotated book recommendations for psychiatry residents, including book recommendations for the psychiatry boards.

General Texts

The DSM-V is a no-brainer to occupy your future office bookshelf (if someone else is paying), although if you’re choosing, the desk reference is less meaty and easier to carry around. The big boy is definitive and long (991 pages). The “desk reference” is the pocket-sized 444-pager that contains the clinical criteria and pares out some of the additional background, epidemiology, etc (which is actually kinda the best part). Despite the fact that the move to DSM-V is incomplete for billing purposes, it seems short-sighted to buy the DSM-IV-TR. That said, if you have or pick up a cheap copy of the DSM-IV-TR, then this brief document covers the highlights of the changes made in the new edition. If you are looking for a more extensive update from the DSM-IV but written in a personable fashion, the DSM-V Essentials would get the job done.

The quintessential Kaplan & Saddock series comes in different flavors depending on your mood. Don’t let the title fool you, Kaplan & Saddock’s “Synopsis” of Psychiatry is gigantic. The newest edition is now updated for DSM5 and clocks in at a healthy 1460 pages. This is the definitive, if somewhat obtuse, text in psychiatry. It makes for a nice reference and contains a lot of historical information. Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry, the “smaller” book (still 750 pages!), is the textbook that you might actually read cover to cover (K&S use the term concise loosely). It hasn’t been updated for DSM5 yet. For board review and general reinforcement, you can complete your trifecta with Kaplan & Sadock’s Study Guide and Self-Examination Review in Psychiatry, probably the most comprehensive review book and question source for the PRITE and the boards. This book could function as your USMLEWorld of psychiatry. In addition to 1600 questions with detailed explanations, the review text is essentially a readable version of the practical parts of the larger volumes.

The APA also puts out the large (1700 page) Textbook of Psychiatry, a worthy alternative to Kaplan & Saddock for those who don’t care for Kaplan and Saddock’s sometimes exhausting style but still want to pretend to read a book that weighs 5 pounds.

Board Review

The favorite review/question books for ABPN Psychiatry Certification Examination seem to be:

The most popular/best online question bank for the ABPN is Board Vitals (which also has question banks for other specialties as well). From user comments online, this resource is definitely not error-free yet, but it’s still widely used. Using the code BW10 at checkout also gets you 10% off (buying after clicking that link gives me a referral; if you don’t want me to get anything, then just use the coupon code without clicking the link). 1 BV has recently been joined by TrueLearn ($25 off with link) and Rosh Review (10% off with code RoshPsych10), which has products for both the PRITE and the ABPN.

Psychiatry Board Review: Pearls of Wisdom is a change of pace and is written in a concise Q&A format. It is neither as consistent nor as thorough as the other review books, but it does contain a lot of high-yield facts organized in a quick-read manner.2

Unlike for Step 1, First Aid for the Psychiatry Boards isn’t the strongest source for psychiatry review, but it does a passable job for neurology.

For the PRITE, also check out Ninja PRITE , a free study guide and question PDF.

On the Wards

For those dreaded medicine months, UpToDate is still probably the very best resource. But if you prefer a pocket guide for the not-so-white coat, MGH’s Pocket Medicine is still the best. For when you’re on the psych wards, MGH also makes the Residency Handbook of Psychiatry.


Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology is classically considered the best resource for learning psychopharm as a first-year resident. Start with Stahl and you’ll have a good foundation. Well organized, well written, excellent diagrams.

That said, newer entrant Cafer’s Psychopharmacology is approachable, digestible, and highly visual, and just generally useful. My wife says it’s her favorite.

Essentials of Clinical Psychopharmacology goes into serious detail where Stahl does not. So much detail that many individual drugs have entire chapters (12 pages on buspirone anyone?). The downside is that each chapter has its own authors and the editing is not tight—there’s a fair amount of repetition.

Handbook of Psychiatric Drug Therapy is an extremely practical and well-organized pocket-size book. Small font, but very clinically oriented.

Tarascon Pocket Pharmacopoeia is a classic general pharma reference, but most people will just use an app like Epocrates (which is just so much easier).


Kaufman’s Clinical Neurology for Psychiatrists is the universally utilized source for a psychiatry-relevant and reasonable treatment of neurology for the boards and beyond. This is sufficient.

If you want a broader and less Psychiatry-oriented volume, Neurology for the Non-Neurologist does the job. It’s readable and not very deep.

For those interested in a basic science level approach to neurobiology and mental health, try Neuroscience for the Mental Health Clinician. Definitely not required reading.


You may not want or need a book about how to conduct a psychiatric interview. For some, this is intuitive on the job learning with taking bits and pieces from the other people you work with. But if you do want a book about the psychiatric interview, then Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding is it.

A Clinicians Guide to Statistics and Epidemiology in Mental Health is a great introduction or refresher to clinically relevant biostatistics, research methods, etc. Clearly written, and all of the examples used in the book are landmark papers you should know anyway.


Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond is a classic CBT textbook. So classic, in fact, that the author, Judith Beck, is the daughter of Aaron Beck (the founder of CBT). The sample interviews are extremely hokey however. You’ve been warned.

Mind Over Mood is CBT geared for patients. It includes short chapters and lots of worksheets, which you can copy for CBT patients during therapy. The Anxiety & Worry Workbook is even better (for your anxiety CBT patients).

Becoming a Therapist is the classic psychotherapy text. It’s written in a personal style from the beginning therapist’s perspective and includes lots of…dialogue. You may find this a somewhat strange read, particularly if you have good real life examples to model after.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: A Clinical Manual is a more structured approach to psychodynamic psychotherapy, with reasonable and readable short chapters.

Dinner conversation fodder (well-rounded mental health-ish reading)


J 09.11.14 Reply

Now I’m confused. Are you a resident in rads or psych? Or radiopsych?

Ben 09.12.14 Reply

Radiopsych, I like it! But no, I’m a radiology resident. My wife is a psych resident though, so I when I decided to expand my book recommendations series, I started with psych first (also, I like psychiatry!).

I’ve noticed a dearth of reasonable-up-to-date-articulate-succint book recs out there for residency (or even medical school), so my plan is to gradually fill the void. It’ll be a slow-growing series though, because as I hope is evidenced above, it does take some goodly effort to produce “best books” recs in this style.

Eric F 03.21.15 Reply

Board Vitals was hands down the best resource for the boards. Check the explanations (there are still typos here and there), but the questions and content were right in line with what you need.

Ben 03.22.15 Reply

Good to know, thanks for weighing in. I’ve personally never seen the questions I didn’t write (which were of course awesome and error-free).

Drew 05.15.15 Reply

What is the overall impression of the Q Bank offered by Board Vitals (

I am preparing for USMLE Step 1 and later for USMLE Step 2. I am doing UWorld and Kaplan Q Book. Is the Board Vitals Q Bank worth the investment in time and money?

Sandeep 05.16.15 Reply

Kaiser purchased this for us, so I don’t know about the cost, but it’s a really great qbank. I would put it on par with Uworld for the step exams.

Ben 05.23.15 Reply

If you mean Board Vitals for the actual Step examinations, I haven’t personally used it, and it doesn’t get much press behind UW, USMLERx, and Kaplan. It may be great, but I don’t think one generally needs a third question bank regardless of quality.

Francisco Emilio Toribio 07.25.15 Reply

In the past, there was a program for students that have completed their Medical degree and since there was such a shortage of Psychiatrists, their board examinations were waived or reagent, if they were going to take the Psychiatry residency program,I am trying to find information in such matter, so there I can apply for it or something similar.

Ben 07.26.15 Reply

Nothing like that exists to my knowledge at this point. See the ECFMG. To my knowledge, every ACGME program now requires the Step examinations in order to start a US residency, and individual states also require them for licensure. Shortage of psychiatrists notwithstanding, there isn’t a massive surplus of residency spots, and there isn’t any way getting around of making sure you look good on paper as far as I know.

S. Pulin 01.02.16 Reply

I used Board Vitals for both the Step Exams and Neurology. It’s not quite a UWorld for the Step exams, but it was better than Kaplan and USMLERx. For Neurology it’s probably the best board prep resource available. From my understanding, Board Vitals sells a lot to institutions, so you may actually get it for free if you ask your program director or librarian etc.

Eva I 05.21.20 Reply

Send my congrats on starting her own practice! What an accomplishment!

Any general advice on how to start a practice? Books on the business of medicine? Things to look out for?

Ben 05.21.20 Reply

Good questions, lots of answers. We have a post coming soon-ish.

Kelly M 05.26.20 Reply

Hi Dr. White, I am about to start my psychiatry residency and was wondering if your wife has any tips for an intern, and if it’s okay with her, tips for residency as a whole. Thank you.

Ben 11.11.20 Reply

Hey Kelly, sorry to keep you hanging, but for you, Nancy, and anyone else…my wife said (and I’m paraphrasing):

Be a person you want to work with. All of residency is like a long job interview where you can make meaningful connections. It’s also more fun to liked and respected.

The best thing you can do professionally in addition to being generally hard-working and doing your best for your patients is to try to carve out a niche or expertise, even if that doesn’t necessarily correspond to further fellowship training. For example, her specialty is women’s (particularly peripartum) mental health. Developing a deep knowledge base in that interest can make you indispensable even when you’re relatively young and inexperienced and will help you make the most of what may somewhat limited opportunities to really grow your skills during training.

Nancy Blair 06.08.20 Reply

same question as Kelly!

Super duper appreciate this Dr. White!!

Ola 02.03.21 Reply

Do you have any recommendations for job hunting? What to look for in a position, things to avoid, how to negotiate contracts..?

Thank you for creating all of this! It’s been a valuable reasource. :)

Ben 02.03.21 Reply

I don’t have a psychiatry post about this, but I did write a pretty detailed post last year about choosing a job in radiology that nonetheless mostly carries over:

I’ll add your broader request to the queue and see if I can get to it this spring.

Amit Jain 09.23.22 Reply

There was a link for conducting psychiatry interviews. Could you please share that link.

Ben 09.23.22 Reply

I’m sorry I’m not sure what you’re referring to

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