Sanderson has used extensive reading and clinical experience to develop a resource that will help counsellors, and I suspect their clients, to work with shame, rather than avoiding it.

From Counselling skills for working with shame - One In Four UK

What does "work with" mean here?

I have checked this thread: The use of "work with" vs. "work at/on"

Phrasally, it means to (A) use X, typically toward completing a task or project, or (B) rely on X for assistance with or make sure X completes a task or project.

But here I think shame is not a tool and not something that a therapist relies on for assistance.

2 Answers 2


This usage is a common form in psychiatric, self-help, and business writing.

Here work with means engage, and is in contrast to avoiding [shame] -- the writer is saying that shame should be consciously engaged, not avoided. In a specialist book for counsellors, "shame" is linguistically almost a material, a type of substance, and usage is just like "Working with wood".

It is very close in usage to work with [a force], in contrast to work against [a force].

There is a third meaning: work with [abstract noun] -- such as "work with pride / speed / anger" -- which has the same construction but an adverbial meaning. The context -- a specialist manual for counsellors -- tells us this isn't what's meant in your case, but it can be ambiguous. "Working with disability" could mean "Having a job if you have a disability" (adverbial meaning) and it can equally mean "Doing Social Work with clients who have disabilities" (as material).

  • So "work with" here connotes two things. One is treating shame as a material. The other is working with something instead of working against something. Does "work with" always have the second connotation? Because when you say "work with wood", I think it is neutral. May 13, 2019 at 10:15
  • 1
    It means shame as "material", but with a positive connotation. "Work with wood" is normally completely neutral, as you say.
    – jonathanjo
    May 13, 2019 at 10:38
  • 3
    "Work with" has a connotation closer to "working with a material"- shaping or altering it. Like an artist works with oils". More this,than working g with/against it.
    – Stilez
    May 13, 2019 at 13:38

You can better understand the usage of the word "with" in your context if, instead of saying "to work with shame," you say "to deal with shame" or "to learn how to live with shame." "Deal with" is a phrase that means "to do something about a person or thing that causes a problem or difficult situation."

So, you do not need to think about "with" as a separate word.

  • I upvoted your answer. I wish I could accept two answers. Thanks for your help. "Deal with" makes things easier to understand. . May 13, 2019 at 10:35

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