Gaining Psychological Flexibility Through the Third-Wave of Behavioral Therapy

Take a moment and think about your most painful internal experiences. Now, think about the most important values that you hold close to your heart. Is there any relationship between the two? Our most painful experiences and our highest values can often be seen as two sides of the same coin.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Do you ever have an unpleasant thought and tell yourself, “no, stop it! You shouldn’t be thinking this way,”?  It’s all about perspective. However, sometimes thought-stopping techniques in traditional Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy may leave us feeling as if we have to control our thoughts in order to change them. The core message of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to accept what is out of your personal control. Instead of control, you commit to action that improves your life.

When I’m enduring a tough situation, acceptance immediately cues an automatic eye roll. Who wants to agree with a situation or person that has caused difficulty? I don’t want to tell myself to stop feeling or thinking unpleasantly. I can, however, simply notice what happened, what I’m thinking, and what I’m feeling without judgement. Acceptance, in this case, can be viewed more as acknowledgement.  

Let Go of Thought Control

ACT is rooted in the belief that the attempt to have control over our thoughts is at the core of human suffering for two reasons. 

Attempts to control or suppress feelings often results in an increase of those feelings.

Avoiding emotions means avoiding values (i.e. you cannot have a loving relationship without risking vulnerability and all of the painful thoughts and feelings that go with it).

Rather than attempting to change, reduce, or eliminate our cognitions, we can notice our thoughts neutrally and allow unpleasant emotions to blend in with our overall emotional experience. The mindfulness we have when we allow ourselves to be aware of our thoughts and feelings is paying intentional attention with openness, curiosity, and flexibility. That facilitates an atmosphere where we can overcome psychological barriers that get in the way of acting on our core values, and helps us fully engage when we are acting in accordance with our values. Returning to our coin metaphor, when we try to push away our most painful experiences, is may also result in us turning our back on our values.

Be free, and ACT 

Accept – let go of the struggle against inner experiences and allowing them to simply be.

Choose – identify your values and a life direction consistent with them.

Take action – commit to specific action to behave in ways that are consistent with your values and chosen direction.

Give Amy Wine Counseling Center a call at 832-421-8714 if you have any questions about our therapeutic services or would like to schedule an appointment.