Book Review: Healing Emotional Pain Workbook

Book cover: Healing Emotional Pain Workbook by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, Erica Pool, and Patricia E. Zurita Ono

The Healing Emotional Pain Workbook by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, Erica Pool, and Patricia E. Zurita Ono uses process-based cognitive behavioural therapy to address the eleven negative coping mechanisms that are most responsible for emotional disorders. Process-based CBT focuses on coping mechanisms that may be used regardless of diagnosis rather than focusing on treating specific disorders. As such, this book could be used for people with a variety of mental illnesses or elements of mental distress without having a particular diagnosis.

The book covers these ineffective coping mechanisms and change processes:

  • Engagement: from behavioural avoidance to action
  • Courage: from safety-seeking to a sense of inner safety
  • Passion: from emotion-driven behaviour to values-driven choices
  • Resilience: from distress intolerance to pain acceptance
  • Openness: from emotion avoidance to emotion acceptance
  • Peace: from thought avoidance to thought acceptance
  • Clarity: from cognitive misappraisal to flexible thinking
  • Self-esteem: from self-blame to self-compassion
  • Patience: from blaming others to compassion
  • Serenity: from worry and rumination to balanced thinking

The book begins with a test called the Comprehensive Coping Inventory-55 to help readers determine which areas they need to focus on. There are five questions for each coping mechanism, and they’re scored based on the frequency with which they’re used.

Each chapter begins with processes that will help to reduce the use of the ineffective coping mechanism, and then moves on to processes that can help to increase the use of the more effective coping mechanism. While CBT is the main therapeutic approach used in this book, it also draws on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) concepts, like cognitive defusion and using values to guide actions, and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) concepts, like the opposite action skill and distress tolerance skills.

The chapter on courage identified common safety behaviours, like distraction, procrastination, overpreparation, reassurance-seeking, checking, and escape/avoidance, which provide temporary relief but actually reinforce anxiety in the longer term. Exposure and response prevention is described as a way to reduce the use of these safety behaviours, and values are used to guide exposure choices.

The chapter on moving from worry and rumination to balanced thinking used acceptance and commitment strategies like the thoughts as leaves on a stream metaphor and repeating the word milk until it loses its meaning and just becomes a jumble of sounds. Processes to promote balanced thinking include mindfulness meditation, being aware of the five senses, and being mindful of the present moment in everyday life.

Finally, there’s a chapter on relapse prevention that guides readers through identifying warning signs, including red flag emotions, and high-risk situations.

While you may find that all of the chapters are relevant to you, the authors explain that you should begin by focusing on the areas where you have the highest scores on the Comprehensive Coping Inventory. I liked the blend of ACT, CBT, and DBT, and there’s plenty of space to go through worksheets (plus more downloadable worksheets available from the publisher’s website). Each chapter has a number of specific processes for you to work on over time, and I think this book would be a good fit if you’re looking for fairly specific guidance as to if you do [x], you should do [y] and [z]. There are some descriptions of why things work, but the emphasis is on the processes rather than on theory.

Overall, this book didn’t strongly grab me, but I still thought it was pretty well done. If a few of these problematic coping mechanisms sound pretty familiar to you and you recognize they need work, this book could be a really good choice for you.

The Healing Emotional Pain Workbook is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Healing Emotional Pain Workbook”

  1. Every time you mention ACT I start to twitch because I hate metaphors LOL especially ones that are meaningless to me. Could be I am so unimaginative that seeing my thoughts as leaves floating on a stream just makes me think “What the hell are you talking about?”

    1. I know you hate metaphors, and that doesn’t make me love them even an iota less (although it does give me a good laugh). 😁

      And hot damn, that teeth smiley emoji on a Windows computer is rather scary-looking.

  2. I’ve been thinking about getting a workbook, as it would help me keep orgnized in my self-improvement. Otherwise, I’m all over the place. 😮

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