Finding good counseling books specifically for women is an uphill fight. The ones that don't leave you with a cotton candy sugar high are generally egalitarianist in their theories. (Big word, small concept. More on that later.) In fact, I have more success with books designed for men, or neutral gender, than the 'women's advice' genre.
I don't really like cotton candy.
Enter Martha Peace with Damsels In Distress. We were visiting a bookstore in a theological seminary, and my mom handed me this one, asking the question every bibliophile loves to hear. "This looked good to me. What do you think?"
I only had to read one page, and I knew it was good.
"Covering issues from gossip and slander to...legalism, Martha Peace, best-selling author of The Excellent Wife, offers biblical insight on problems women face. This straightforward, clear-cut book offers practical solutions in an ideal format for personal reading or group study."
Martha divides her book into three sections: biblical solutions for problems with others, biblical solutions for problems with ourselves, and biblical solutions for problems with the world. Whether you struggle with idolatrous emotional attachments, hurt feelings, vanity, or feminism, she offers straight speaking. Sometimes shockingly straight. This is no Snuggie book, but a surgical knife to remove the sin that we often don't even know we are harboring. Plenty of grace, but no skimping on biblical counsel and loving rebuke.
Martha Peace is a certified counselor in Jay Adam's nouthetic system, which repudiates mainstream, humanistic psychology. It instead focuses on overcoming sin, whether it be in yourself or in someone else. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." This is cornerstone of their philosophy. Jay Adam's counselors believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, and their primary source for solving all of their counselee's dilemmas. Martha Peace brings this sound perspective to her book on dealing with women. Her advice is well worth taking the time to drink in.
One more plus about this book: it embraces the biblical roles for men and women. And here's where egalitarianism comes in to play. Egalitarianism embraces the idea that men and women are equal, that there is no difference in their roles, and that a woman can serve God in any role a man can. Authoritarianism is the idea that women are to yield unquestioning obedience to men. But complementarianism is the idea that men and women are equal, that both are to serve God with their gifts and talents, and that women are to use theirs to serve God under the authority of fathers and husbands. Men are still in charge according to the complementarianism system, but women are not mindless slaves, but willing helpmeets, in Godly subjection to male authority.
Most women theologians embrace egalitarianism--no difference in men's and women's roles. But Martha Peace teaches complementarianism, in a far from palatable way to our modern feminist movement.
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God...A man...is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man...In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
--1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9, 11-12
By far the most helpful chapter to me was the one on manipulation. Sinful manipulation is 'using unbiblical words and/or your countenance to bully another person into letting you have your way. All the while you know that if you cannot have your way, you can at least punish the other person in the process." (Damsels in Distress, Chapter 4) It's hard to recognize manipulation, and once you do recognize it, it's hard not to give in (for some of us) but Martha clearly detailed both the signs and the biblical responses: manipulators will sweet talk, cry, threaten, accuse, and use the cold shoulder tactic. Martha gives four scenarios to help show what a manipulating situation might look like, and she covered all the relationships: one spouse manipulating another, a parent manipulating a child, a child manipulating a parent, and a friend manipulating a friend. Manipulation is 'verbal abuse', and according to Scripture, manipulators are acting like fools. How to deal with them:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
"In other words, give the fool an answer that will convict him of his responsibility before God. He may not repent, but at least he will have been told clearly of his responsibility before God." (Ch. 4)
Each of the eleven chapters has excellent and applicable advice. The other one that stood out to me was the chapter on feminism. As Peace says: 'Because influences are often very subtle, our challenge is to understand how we have been influenced and how we must change.' And further down: 'It is not a matter of "if" we have been influenced, but "how much" our ears have been tickled to think in the terms of what feminist philosophy dictates."
Note that because this is a woman's advice book, it speaks to women. Some of the subject matter covers women's health and mature themes. Therefore, it's a women's only book, which I recommend for mid-teen and up.
Each chapter offers further study questions for your own personal application, and also every subject has graphs dealing with multiple thoughts and situations applying to the subject matter. For example, the chapter on manipulation has five scenarios detailing different tactics the manipulator might try to use. The chapter on feminism has common thoughts that Christian women think that have been influenced by unbiblical patters of thought. These graphs help the reader understand and know how to apply what they are reading.
Damsels in Distress. Straight talk to women about 11 applicable issues. Full of grace and truth, and I highly recommend it. :)