Being Present, Opening Up and Doing What Matters
Updated: Feb 21
I am super excited and pumped up about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). If you haven’t heard about this new, evidence-based psychotherapeutic modality…get ready to have your mind blown. ACT teaches us to accept what is out of our personal control and commit to taking value-based action to improve our lives.
Russ Harris (ACT trainer) says the aim of ACT is to live a rich, full, and meaningful life while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. Steven Hayes (ACT founder) says the goal is to live now and live fully with our painful thoughts, feelings, memories, and fears.
Contrary to what you might believe, we have very little control over our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, judgments, and fears. The problem isn’t our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, judgments, and fears (in other words our psychological pain), but rather our struggle with the pain.
Our minds have evolved to struggle, as they are in fact problem-solving machines. This works great in the external word. You have an insect problem; you call an exterminator. You get a hole in your shoe; you buy a new pair. Your car breaks down; you take it to the mechanic. Since the mind is so good at solving problems, it will try to do the same with our inner world. Unfortunately, when we try to “fix = get rid of” our unwanted thoughts and feelings, we often make things worse.
ACT commonly uses the following core principles to develop the skill of psychological flexibility:
If you think about flexibility in terms of the body, flexible people have greater freedom of movement, fewer injuries, greater physical relaxation, less pain, and better balance. Why wouldn’t we want those things for our minds too?! Research is now showing that the skill of psychological flexibility can help us adapt to situations, manage stress, shift perspectives, clarify values, be more present and increase well-being.
Instead of trying to escape or avoid painful experiences, ACT teaches us how to “drop the struggle” - to approach pain with acceptance, mindfulness and compassion. You might be asking…why would I ever want to approach much less accept pain? ACT assumes that pain is a NORMAL part of being human. In other words, I am not defective or abnormal and neither are you. What a relief! I am also not supposed to be “happy” all the time. Again…what a relief!
Do you know what this means? I can have an anxious thought AND still take a risk. I can feel depressed AND simultaneously engage with other humans. I can worry about all the needless things I worry about AND be productive. This is described as vitality: the sense of being fully present in life regardless of how we feel in the moment. This shift suggests that we can take action without removing or changing our feelings.
ACT is not only a form of therapy; it is a revolutionary way to view the human condition. If you are interested in "getting out of your mind and into your life", we are here to help!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie Longtain, LCSW is a therapist and co-founder of Human State of Mind Counseling in Houston, Texas. She works with teens and adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, stress and overwhelming emotions. If you are interested in working with Stephanie, visit www.hsmcounseling.com.
Learn more about our fellow co-founder, Jasandra Oeffinger, LPC and her work with kiddos, parents and adults.