The Pain Survival Guide: how to reclaim your life

For my final (for now) review of self-help workbooks, I’ve chosen one written by one of the most influential researchers and clinicians in pain management, The Pain Survival Guide: how to reclaim your life, written by Dennis Turk and Frits Winter. It’s also not published by New Harbinger, but instead by the authoritative American Psychological Association.

This is a very readable book and its smaller format (than most of the other workbooks I’ve reviewed) makes it a little easier to carry and keep close than many. Despite this, it packs a lot into its over 200 pages, and it certainly contains the majority of the topics that you would expect in a self help book.  It’s broken into ten ‘lessons’ or chapters, designed to be read and followed on a weekly basis. Each chapter focuses on a single concept but refers back to previous chapters and activities, and it provides many ‘learning activities’ to help tailor the approach to the individual.

It has many self-learning worksheets that help the reader to learn more about how the concept being discussed applies personally, and although they are not as expansive in terms of room to write, they are relevant and clear.

Chapters include topics such as:
1. the need to become your own pain management expert
2. activity, rest and pacing
3. learning to relax
4. ways to combat fatigue
5. don’t let pain ruin relationships
6. changing behaviour
7. changing thoughts and feelings
8. gaining self confidence
9. putting it all together
10. maintenance and setback planning

Again, like the workbook I looked at yesterday, it assumes that people reading it are ‘ready’ for action – so no discussion about readiness for change. However, it does emphasise the need to integrate not only the pain management strategies into life, but changing goals and working with others to help return from ‘patient’ to ‘person’.

Aspects I liked about this book – it’s simple, but quite comprehensive. The writing style is easy to read (although probably more difficult than many of our clients could manage), and it doesn’t use too many ‘americanisms’ or jargon-filled sentences, so it’s palatable to New Zealanders! I’m very familiar with the approaches suggested through the book, also the order in which the chapters are presented, in which coping strategies and activity planning are provided first, then behaviours and thoughts are considered later. I also liked the emphasis on relationships and fatigue which are often neglected in this type of book.

Aspects that I didn’t think were so good – as I’ve said before, and will say again, lots of words make it difficult for the people I see to use a book like this without support from a health professional. It’s not as spaced out as some of the other books, so could be a little more difficult to use. It does cover a lot of information, so it can be once-over-lightly in some senses.

In summary – this is a good, sound self help workbook that has a behavioural emphasis that some workbooks don’t have, and a focus on the ‘real world’ which includes sleep, relationships and even having fun!

I like the readable style, and for me single chapters can be stand-alone for some clients (especially the activity planning one!). I’d see it as a book to keep on your desk, perhaps available for loan, and definitely as a support manual for anyone who is participating in an Activity Focused Programme with therapist input.

The major lack in all the workbooks I’ve reviewed is absolutely no attention to the impact of pain on work, and no discussion of how you might use the skills in a workplace where working despite fluctuations of pain is essential. Maybe this lack is an opportunity for someone to develop a workbook that does address this area?

The Pain Survival Guide
How to Reclaim Your Life
By Dennis C. Turk, Frits Winter
Format: Paperback, 203 pages
Published In: United States, September 2005
Publisher: American Psychological Association (APA)
ISBN: 1591470498
EAN: 9781591470496


  1. I’m a PT and I work (not exclusively) with persistent pain patients..should I buy it? What cognitive-behavioral book/guide/reference would you recommend me to introduce myself to this approach?

    1. Yes, get this book!! It’s a great resource and easy to read.
      The next book to consider is – this is Pain-Related Fear: Exposure-Based Treatment for Chronic Pain, by Johan Vlaeyen and others.
      And finally, I like this one too Chronic Pain: An Integrated Biobehavioral Approach, another IASP publication. Go the IASP website ( and look for the bookstore.

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