Book reviews

Book Review: The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame

book cover: The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame by Matthew McKay

The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame is written by psychologists Matthew W. McKay, Michael Jason Greenberg, and Patrick J. Fanning. It’s based on acceptance and commitment therapy and focused on addressing the defectiveness schema in depression.

The book begins and ends with a series of several self-assessment questionnaires to let you see how much progress you’ve made while working through the book.

Quite a few worksheets are included in the book. These are simply laid out, and clear examples are provided. The example scenarios included in the text were relatively lengthy; I would have preferred it if they were a bit shorter.

A key concept mentioned throughout the book was defensive coping behaviours. These behaviours served a purpose at the time, but continue even after they’re no longer helpful. The book notes that they often fall within the categories of overcompensation, surrender, and avoidance. It explains that “When you follow the urge to engage in the DCB, you reduce your pain in the moment, but this ensures that your defectiveness remains unchallenged.”

One of the strategies the authors suggest is “creative hopelessness,” which means recognizing that what you’re doing isn’t working, so it’s time to come up with something new.

There’s a chapter on mindfulness that ties into defense coping behaviours, including work on identifying the moments when you choose to use a defensive coping behaviour. There’s also a chapter on values, and defensive coping behaviours are framed as taking you away from your values. Other topics covered included cognitive defusion, avoidance, self-compassion, and relapse planning.

I felt an immediate sense of pushback to this bit:

“You became depressed because your life evolved into being about avoiding shame and defectiveness feelings. You became less and less the person you wanted to be as you engaged in more avoidance and more DCBs. There is the basic choice in life: doing what matters, doing what you care about, or having your days focused on trying to escape pain.”

I could rant, but I’ll skip that. Other than that, though, there wasn’t anything else that was cringe-inducing for me.

Given that I’m a fan of ACT, and I was really impressed by Matthew McKay’s other book, the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, I had high expectations for this book. In the end, for me, it didn’t live up to those expectations. The book isn’t terrible by any means; it just wasn’t a standout for me.

The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame is available on Amazon.

I received a reviewer copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

You can find my other book reviews here.


book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle. It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the MH@H Store.


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15 thoughts on “Book Review: The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame”

  1. I can agree with why that one part didn’t appeal to you, although I get what they are saying and somewhere somehow I know that avoidance isn’t going to help me in the long run, sometimes I need peace in the now. I think that they conveyed that message a bit strong by using ‘you became depressed’ where there is not one ‘right’ interpretation. It * could* be true for some that …

    1. I think it also would’ve helped if they didn’t frame it as a choice not to live a better life. I think for a lot people, avoidance is a strategy that works in the moment, and coming up with more effective strategies is a much more involved process than simply making a choice.

      1. Also a choice sounds like you’re totally in control over what is happening but most of those ‘choices’ can be not that well thought truth.
        There is always a reason why we do or ‘choose’ things and that should be addressed too. I mean sometimes the ‘wrong’ choices can be wrong from one perspective but have something in them that makes you choose them, some sort of ‘benefit’. It isn’t a black and white matter.

  2. Yeah, the quote’s upsetting. Why do authors have to make blanket statements of an offensive nature? Geez. As a trauma victim, the quote upsets me too. Like when I’m having flashbacks or I’m “triggered”, I’m making the wrong “choice” to be upset by it? Ugh.

    I’ve been having hormonal issues AGAIN this month. I’ve decided to attack it with extra Prozac starting the week before my period’s due. It’s just too much. I should write Dr. Phlegm a letter and say as much.

  3. I relate to a lot of what the book seems to be describing, having behaviors that no longer serve me (because trauma is not happening right now), realizing that what I’m doing isn’t working so why not try something else, and trying to do things in line with my values and long term goals.

    I don’t like the word “defective” though. :/

    And about the quote, yeah, I dislike being told “you’re depressed because x.” Like, does the author personally know every person reading the book and how they became depressed? I don’t think so!

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