Given the pervasiveness of psychological pain, we should place a premium on establishing a sense of significance, regardless of how we feel. Psychotherapy should assist individuals in maintaining efficient functioning when they are troubled, in addition to addressing symptoms such as painful thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) adopts this approach, promoting more adaptable and value-driven behaviours via the use of mindfulness, acceptance, and other behavioural methods. The objectives of ACT are not necessarily to alter or diminish one’s troublesome ideas or emotions but to develop meaningful and productive behaviours regardless of mood, motivation, or thinking. In other words, the fundamental objective is to facilitate what therapists refer to as ‘valued living.’
Consider valued living as living your daily life in the service of values that are important to you, with the result that these acts provide a feeling of meaning and purpose. From an ACT viewpoint, symptoms of mental diseases, and psychological pain in general, are troublesome when they are associated with restrictive behaviours that keep us from enjoying a meaningful life. While we have little control over the pain we feel — in fact, emotional discomfort is fundamentally human – we do have some influence over how we respond to that suffering. Numerous common responses to distressing thoughts and emotions – such as avoidance, substance abuse, withdrawal, and aggression – can temporarily alleviate distress but also cause long-term damage to our relationships, jobs, freedom, and personal growth – precisely the areas that provide that sense of meaning and purpose. By letting go of a pain-reduction goal and recalibrating toward a more value-driven agenda, our decisions may be guided by who we want to be rather than how we want to feel.
How ACT Works with values
This leads me back toward the implementation of ACT. While the depth of ACT exercises and approaches is beyond the scope of this post, there is one activity that I’d like to offer that has assisted some of my individuals in seeing the inextricable relationship between a meaningful life and painful events. The therapist begins this practice (which has several versions) by asking the client to write on a card some of the internal experiences they are having the greatest difficulty with – challenging thoughts and judgements, feelings, and memories.
What do you observe when you read the index card, I inquire? I’m miserable; I despise this. What are your intentions with the card? I’m tempted to toss it in the garbage. The client then flips the card over and I ask them to write down some of the things that are most significant to them – being a parent, caring for and supporting others, learning and developing, and so on. What strikes you as you read this site? It seems natural; this is who I want to be. Where is the discomfort, where is the other nonsense? Continued on the other side of the card. What happens if you ignore, flee, or avoid the pain? I do the same thing with meaningful items. What does your experience tell you right now, in your heart of hearts? If I’m going to accomplish the things that matter to me, if I’m going to be the person I want to be, I have to take place for the difficult stuff as well.
This, in my view, is both an extremely taxing exercise and one that teaches a person that it is hard to detach sorrow from meaningful existence. While it might be challenging to deal with such issues during sessions, we frequently return to the method’s reasoning – that perhaps a different approach to suffering is essential. That is the essence of ACT work — confronting the demons, judgements, and pain that lay beneath in order to progress toward what is meaningful.
What is needed may not be what feels good.
The road that is appreciated is not always the path that is joyful. The social connection might occasionally bring up memories of abuse and trauma. As a parent, you may have doubts, insecurities, and feelings of worry, dread, rage, and humiliation. Advocating for social justice necessitates regular exposure to our societies’ disparities and the sense of hopelessness that might accompany battling for equality that may not arrive until after you are gone. However, an increasing corpus of psychological research indicates that the valued path is more feasible, whereas the joyful road may be more illusory.