Are you interested in learning more about managing your mental health and life goals? On this page, Sim Gill, MSc has curated a number of articles filled with information and helpful advice. To book your initial consultation, call the clinic today.
Motivating Yourself to Achieve Goals and Practice New Skills
New year, new you? We’ve heard this before. We’re mid-way into January and some of us have already quit our goals. It’s never too late to get up and try again or change habits that are just not working. This article is on ways to achieve goals, practice new skills and staying committed to these goals. We’ve put together 10 tips that may help you stay focused and achieve your goals.
1. IDENTIFY VALUES THAT INFLUENCE YOUR GOALS AND PERSONAL OUTLOOK ON LIFE
Humans are distinct species as their lives benefit from connection to a set of values and purpose. Values provide deep personal motivation to follow through on goals and tasks. Clarifying values will help define what is important for you in this moment and in your life. Spending time to define your values will in turn help define your purpose and direction in life. Values also guide our decision-making. Example: If Jill believes in trust and honesty, she will be unlikely to make decisions to lie and be disloyal.
2. SETTING GOALS UP FOR SUCCESS
Use the Acronym – SMART – to define your goals. It is sometimes a better idea to form a written statement of your goals rather than to keep it in your head.
S – Specific
Avoid stating your goals vaguely (I’m going to be a better cook). Instead give yourself some parameters (I’m going to cook a minimum of 4 meals a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
M – Measurable
Are these goals measurable? How will you know that you have achieved your goal? Or how will you measure your progress on that goal? It is a good idea to give yourself a start and end date as well as feedback on any tasks related to your goals. (If your goal is to loose 20lbs in a month, you will want to complete a baseline of current physical abilities. This will provide you with a measure of comparison to after a month.
A – Attainable
Is this goal attainable? Will you be able to achieve it? Do you have the necessary skills to obtain this goal? Is it motivation? How will you keep yourself motivated? Will those goals cost you anything? You may need to get more training for certain goals, such as positions in your career. Spend some time thinking about what you will need to attain your goal.
R – Realistic
Is this goal a true possibility? How realistic is this goal? Are you willing and able to work on this goal? What does this goal represent to you? Goals that are not realistic are often difficult to obtain due to the low motivational force towards that objective. If you do not believe in your goals, your motivation and dedication will be affected. You will need to plan for how you will respond to these obstacles in your goals.
T – Time-Limited
Time gives us a sense of urgency to complete a goal. Without setting a time frame, your motivation to achieve the goal will waver. I will learn to cook 3 new healthy recipes by February 15th 2018 instead of I will learn 3 new health recipes. The end date can often be a source of motivation and reward as you near the deadline
3. BREAK GOALS DOWN INTO COMPONENTS
Some goals are time-consuming and long-term. This can cause us some anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Breaking goals down into components can help you plan and organize each step towards your goal in a clear and efficient manner. You can break down tasks as simple as filling out an application form (separate all of the sections, paper clip each section together, complete one section in one hour across 5-7 days).
What are some steps that are required to complete your goal?
If your goal is to lose 10 lbs in 30 days, what will you need to do in order to achieve that? Will you need to create a meal plan? Will you need to follow an exercise program? How will you track your progress?
If your goal is to get a promotion at work within 2 years, what will you need to do to achieve this? What steps will you need to take? Get more training? Seek out more opportunities within your current scope of work?
4. BARRIERS AND OBSTACLES
What might get in the way of attaining your goals? What types of events will discourage you from achieving or working on your goals? Is there anything specific that may happen to prevent you from achieving your goals?
Once you identify obstacles and barriers that may lie ahead of your goals, you will be able to come up with an action plan for each problem. You will be able to identify points of access that allow you to be aware of upcoming obstacles and how to determine alternative choices.
5. BEHAVIOR MOMENTUM
Behavior momentum theory suggests that by engaging in 2-3 high-probability tasks for compliance (i.e. watching a show you like, taking a bath, reading the paper), prior to engaging in a more difficult low probability tasks. The greater the rate of reinforcement for behaviors, the greater the momentum of compliance.
In other words, by planning to engage in 2-3 rewarding or enjoyable tasks prior to a more daunting or difficult task, you are able to create an energy of behavior compliance. By engaging in high-reinforcing tasks, you increase the likelihood of completing the low-reinforcing tasks simply because of the momentum of compliance.
What tools will help you complete your goals? Do you need further training or education? Do you require a mentor? Someone to supervise your progress with regards to your goals? Can you find someone who will be supportive of your goals and often check in with you and your progress?
Having the necessary set-up helps to support our pursuit of our goals. Do you need an office desk to set up a home office? Do you need marketing support to help advertise your business? What type of supports do you need from others that may help? By having a buddy-system, many people find their level of commitment to goals increases because of the public awareness of the goal. If your entire family knows that you plan to lose 10lbs in 20 days, they can help support you in your goal by checking in with you, planning exercise days, and even helping you make more nutritional choices.
We cannot always complete goals without any help. Find out what type of support network that you need, to help achieve your goals.
7. PROMPTS, PROMPTS, PROMPTS!
8. PLAN AHEAD
Life can get hectic and when too many events are happening, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Planning ahead helps to define some structure to your week. You can plan around many things: meal plans, birthdays, soccer practice.
If you can view your week, ahead of time, the tasks will not feel as overwhelming because you have planned for each task. Planning will not always work out, as life can get even more hectic. You will need to be flexible with your planning and start with only 3-4 tasks a week. You can always build on, once you become comfortable with the new structure.
After the completion of tasks, allow yourself some time to reflect on your performance. Giving yourself some real-time feedback is helpful to problem-solve any areas that may concern you. For example: You’ve cooked Thanksgiving Dinner and although everyone loves the stuffing, you realize that you forgot to add an ingredient. There could be many different types of feedback that you may give to yourself and some of them, may also be negative: How could I mess that up? I do it every year! Or positive feedback: I can’t believe I forgot that but at least now I know that I am room to be flexible with my recipe.
Feedback can also be a form of self-reward. It also helps prepare you for dealing with the task in the future.
Make sure you find the time to reward yourself! Preventative strategies are the best strategies because it means that you do not have to exert so much energy when you are reactive. Preventative strategies can be activities like: listening to relaxing music, Tai Chi, proper nutrition, pampering yourself, taking a relaxing bath, regular exercise. These activities provide you with the energy and internal resources necessary to cope with other events.
You can also reward yourself through positive feedback. Upon completion of a task, it can be helpful to ask yourself, How did that go? This simple question can help you brainstorm the way you handled the situation, how you could handle it better, and what would you change to make the situation better.
Reward can also be setting time aside to do things like, watch T.V., read a book, paint or even hang out with friends. Social rewards can be very reinforcing! By keeping up with your busy schedule, Monday to Friday, scheduling a night out on Saturday may help de-stress some of the week’s load.
These are just some helpful tips to getting yourself to complete activities or tasks that are not necessarily appeasing. They are also tips for self-care. Remember, attempting to use any of these strategies requires continue use to see effectiveness. Be consistent with your use of these tips and write in about your thoughts and experiences!
Book a visit with Psychotherapist, Sim Gill
Article by Sim Gill MSc
The Psychotherapy Act was created in 2007, which lead to the need for a regulatory body. In April 2015, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario became a new health regulatory college in Ontario. The CRPO was created to develop registration requirements and standards of practice for practitioners of psychotherapy.
The CRPO’s mandate is “to regulate registered psychotherapists in the public interest, striving to ensure that practitioners are competent, ethical and accountable.”
Up until April 2015, psychotherapists were almost considered ‘freelancers.’ We had no governing body to ensure that psychotherapists were practicing according to standards and procedures that are regulated. There was no higher body to ensure that we had professional competence and practiced responsibly and ethically. In fact, because we had no governing body, anyone could call themselves a psychotherapist in Ontario – regardless of the extent of training and education. If you read a book on psychotherapy and decided that you would apply the techniques to help people – you could call yourself a psychotherapist. Now, to be considered a registered psychotherapist, you must complete a thorough application to the CRPO.
This is great news for us psychotherapists! By being under a regulatory body, we are now offered many great career opportunities that were offered to other regulated health professionals such as social workers or occupational therapists. Due to not being backed by a regulatory body, we were considered non-registered therapists without much merit. At least, that was my experience.
Since I have obtained my registration as a psychotherapist, many doors have opened in terms of my career. I am forever thankful that the Government of Ontario along with the CRPO council could make this happen for us!
Here is a copy of the letter from the CRPO announcing it’s Proclamation
Fwd From the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario:
Proclamation Date Announced
March 31, 2015
Today, the transitional Council was advised by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) that the Psychotherapy Act, 2007 will come into force on April 1, 2015, thereby creating the new College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario (CRPO). In addition, Council learned that proclamation of the controlled act of psychotherapy has not been proclaimed into force at this time.
All those who have submitted applications for registration with the new College are advised that soon we will begin sending out notifications, via our Member Management System, regarding the status of applications. Along with the notification, successful applicants will receive an invoice for their first year’s registration fee, and instructions about next steps to complete the registration process. IMPORTANT: please wait for your official invoice before attempting to pay your registration fee. If you have submitted an application and do not receive a notification in the next 2-3 weeks, this means your application is still under review.
Who should register?
Anyone who wishes to use the title, “psychotherapist” (or an abbreviation of that title), or who holds him/herself out as qualified to practise as a psychotherapist in Ontario must become registered, unless they are already a member of one of the other regulated professions whose members may practise psychotherapy.
For established practitioners, the ‘Grandparenting’ route to registration will be available for two years – until March 31, 2017. This does not mean that such practitioners should wait until the end of the grandparenting period to apply. Rather, they should consider whether they need to be registered, and should apply as soon as it is reasonably possible to do so.
Postponement of the controlled act of psychotherapy
Many will be wondering about the implications of this postponement and why it is necessary. Given that the controlled act is very broad, it has caused many mental health service providers to see themselves as possibly involved in performing this activity, thus requiring registration with the new College. Postponement of the controlled act will allow time to develop a better understanding of its meaning and implications. In the meantime, child and youth workers, addiction counsellors and mental health workers may continue to provide services without concerns about the proposed controlled act.
Should you choose to want to learn more about the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, here is the link to their webstie: www.crpo.ca
Keep it UP!
Sumeet Shergill, MSc
Rule governed behaviours shape ongoing private and public interactions, which are influenced by historical and current contingencies with the surrounding environment. Rule-following becomes a contingency-specifying event, such that the rule specifies behaviour resulting in a specific consequence. Individuals derive relations between events and contingencies through verbal language, evaluating current and historical impact of actions, and consequently the future frequency of events (Bond, Hayes & Barnes-Holmes, 2006). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is predicated on the principle of destructive normality; the verbal language underlying human psychological processes can be destructive and dysfunctional, creating a context for psychopathology (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). The context of psychopathology is created by psychological inflexibility, the unwillingness to change one’s behaviours, which are contradictory of their long-term values. The primary aim of the current paper is to describe the role of language in generating a context for psychological inflexibility. Specifically, the role of language in rule-governed behaviour and its implications upon psychopathology will be discussed. Further, the underlying influence of rule-governed behaviour relative to the six core processes of psychological inflexibility will be examined in relation to psychopathology.
The Role of Language in Creating Psychological Inflexibility
Verbal language is a strong factor in regulating human psychological processes and behaviours, resulting in a process called relational framing. Relational framing is a psychological process where relations are derived between events, and joined to a larger network of relations. This process of relational framing is the basis of human language and cognitions (Hayes, 2004). For example, Sally enjoys playing in the ‘park,’ a place that she values as ‘peaceful’ and ‘safe.’ She has been told that ‘scorpions’ are often found in ‘parks.’ Further, Sally has had direct or indirect experience with scorpions to know that they are ‘dangerous’ and cause ‘fear.’ However, Sally has never directly seen a scorpion in a park. The newly established relation, ‘parks have scorpions’ results in a transformation of the park’s functions, so that the parks are now valued as ‘fearful’ and ‘dangerous.’ The ‘parks’ have become an object of fear, after a relational frame was created between ‘scorpions and parks.’ This exact ability of relational framing is the source of psychological suffering, where relations are derived between private events to the contexts of which they experienced. The transformation of stimulus functions of these words also transfers onto us, enabling identification with the thoughts. Consequently, this identification influences behaviours which result in the avoidance of aversive events. For example, if we relate the words ‘pathetic’ and ‘worthless’ to the words ‘my life,’ the functions of these descriptive words transfer not only to the words ‘my life’ but to events that have been related to ‘life.’ This fusion with thoughts leads to self-identifying statements; ‘my life is pathetic and worthless.’
Human behaviour is shaped by contingencies which have been directly experienced in the past, as well as by contingencies which are verbally constructed. Contingency-shaped behaviour is learning through consequences, which gradually shape behaviours through direct experience. Rule-governed behaviour is governed by specified contingences of behaviour, rather than the direct contact with consequences (Skinner, 1969 as cited in Hayes, Strosahl & Wilson, 2003). As verbal rules are created through relational framing, a shift in behavior is caused, where rule-governed behavior takes precedence over learning from direct experience. Through relational framing and rule-governed behavior, the content of verbal language is taken literally, instead of examining the verbal context of the thoughts (Torneke, Luciano, & Salas, 2008). Humans create relational frames between words, such as ‘if…then…before…after’ or more specifically, ‘if I wash my hands five-times in an hour, then I will not get sick.’ The disadvantages and dangers of rule-governed behaviour is that rules become insensitive to environmental conditions which have not yet been specified by the rule. This insensitivity is a large factor underlying the role of rule governed behavior in psychological inflexibility and psychopathology. For example, Hayes, Brownstein, Haas & Greenway (1986) asked participants to complete a task, pushing a button when the light is green. One group of participants were given the rule stating, ‘to obtain reinforcement, only push the button when the light is green’. The other group of participants were not given any instruction. In the short term, the participants who were given a verbal rule accumulated points quicker than the without instruction group. However, when the contingencies were altered without warning the groups, such as the change in response requirement, results indicated that participants who were given a verbal rule showed greater difficulty than the without instruction group, to adjust to the new condition. Due to the insensitivity to change in response requirement, the rule which was effective became a barrier; not letting the participants be responsive to the new contingency. In clinical terms, individuals continue engaging in behaviours that ‘should’ work, even when the behaviour itself is harmful.
There are three types of rule-governed behaviour: pliance, tracking and augmenting (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). Each of these rule-governed behaviours has implications in creating psychological inflexibility. Rules based on histories of socially mediated consequences are defined as pliance (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). Pliance is the most common type of rule-governed behaviour, which can have detrimental effects on psychological processes, leading to excessive rigid behaviours that dominate direct workable actions (Hayes, Zettle & Rosenfarb as cited in Hayes, 2004). For example, a client may engage in positive behaviour during a therapy session, agreeing with the therapist only to win the therapist’s approval. Approval is the socially mediated consequence that makes the act of agreeing, desirable. Tracking rules are based on a history of equating verbal rules with natural consequences that are produced entirely by the form of the behaviour. Tracking rules become problematic when they are inaccurate or involve self-fulfilling motives, producing dysfunctional behaviours (Torneke, Luciano, & Salas, 2008). For example, a client with depression may track the behaviour via the verbal rule: ‘I will feel better if I have a drink.’ The functional properties of the rule transfer to the individual’s actions. If having a drink, allows the client to feel better, the behavior creates confidence in following the rule. Augmenting rules change the extent to which events function as consequences (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). Through augmenting rules, consequences which do not have to be directly experienced, can still specify the contingencies for behaviours. For example, an individual lives in accordance to the rule: ‘If I want to be happy in my relationships, I must not have negative thoughts and I don’t have negative thoughts when I get the approval of my significant other.’ The desired outcome of having a happy relationship is not problematic, however the inaccurate rule of ‘not having negative thoughts’ becomes an augmental, changing the avoided thought into an even more aversive thought as the thought is contradictory to the outcome goal of being happy.
Psychological Inflexibility and the Six Core Processes of Psychopathology
Rule-governed behaviors allow individuals to fuse with events that have not yet directly been experienced, leading individuals to verbally construct the past or future into the present. The context in which a verbal rule is experienced becomes synonymous with the rule itself, resulting in a fusion or identification with the rule (Torneke, Luciano, & Salas, 2008). The fusion with verbal rules leads individuals to valuing the rules as a concept of self. Further, verbal rules are not receptive to changes in the environment, leading to a psychological inflexibility in the way we process and behave. Psychological inflexibility narrows behavioural repertoires through two main core psychological processes, leading to psychological suffering: cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance. Cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance are core components in creating psychological inflexibility, giving rise to four other psychopathological processes: conceptualized past and future (limited self-knowledge), lack of values, inaction/impulsivity, and attachment to a conceptualized self. These core processes are interrelated, each with important influences upon the other.
Relational framing establishes verbally ascribed functions to events, reducing direct experience with current environments (Harris, 2009). Cognitive fusion is the process by which individuals identify with their thoughts, rather than direct experience, to the extent that thoughts begin to dominate their behaviour (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). Cognitive fusion significantly reduces the ability to act and think effectively, as thoughts begin to take precedence over all other actions (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). For example, a client engaging in pliance rule governed behaviour may have the thought that ‘In order to be loved, I must agree with everything my significant other says.’ Another client may engage in rule-governed behaviour, following the rule, ‘the relationship will not last because I am not meant to be loved.’ The thoughts become immediately present, increasing depressive symptoms, even when the imagined event has not yet occurred. Cognitive fusion enables the depressive symptoms by fusing the functional properties of the rule ‘not meant to be loved’ with the consequence, ‘end of a relationship.’
Cognitive fusion leads to experiential avoidance, a behaviour trap where actions are taken to avoid or escape aversive events, ‘altering the form, frequency and intensity of events’ (Hayes, Strosahl & Wilson, 2003). Experiential avoidance is central to psychopathology, increasing psychological suffering by creating cognitive dissonance, in which individuals experience an aversive thought and at the same time view the experience as threatening to their psychological being, trying to avoid the private event altogether (Harris, 2009). There are two types of experiential avoidance: suppression and situational avoidance (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2003). Individuals engage in suppression by actively attempting to control or eliminate aversive private events. Situational avoidance alters the antecedent conditions that are associated with the presence of a private event. Rule-governed behaviour becomes powerful in experiential avoidance, where augmental rules are created in the form of ‘If I do X, then I will feel Y, which has the effect of Z.’ The rule opposes the desired outcome, as the rule amplifies the frequency of the thought; trying to get rid of the thought, requires thinking about the thought. Through rules, the private event is given behavioural importance, so that suppression or situational avoidance temporarily disrupts events. Experiential avoidance increases short term benefits but also increases long-term effects, such as narrowing behavioural repertoires. For example, a client with social phobia may be behaviourally guided by the tracking rule,’ If I stay home, I will avoid feeling anxious.’ In the short term, the event of feeling anxious is avoided, but also decreases all other behaviours associated with going outside of the home, slowly isolating the individual, and thereby increasing psychological suffering.
Experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion increase psychological suffering for two reasons. First, we engage in rules that specify controlling aversive private events, when the ability to control thoughts is very limited. Second, through focusing on eliminating aversive events, we exhibit a higher indulgence in the avoided thoughts, increasing their frequency, intensity and dominance over actions.
Dominance of a Conceptualized Past or Future/Limited Self Knowledge
As a result of fusion and avoidance, individuals lose direct experience with the environment, increasingly becoming dominated by a conceptualized past or future. Instead of connecting with the present moment and one’s personal values, individuals idealize or fantasize about ‘what could have been different or why something had to happen’. As one’s moment to moment awareness of the self-decreases, individuals begin to live in the past or the future. Being dominated by a conceptualized past or future limits one’s self knowledge, creating a difficulty in observing and describing current thoughts, emotions, and sensations with respect to the present context in which they are experienced. This dominance invariably leads to an inability to persist or change maladaptive behaviours. For instance, depressed clients may identify with a conceptualized past, ruminating over thoughts of failure or may fuse with a conceptualized future, worrying about ‘what could happen.’
Lack of Clarity in Values
As thoughts regulate behaviours, individuals begin to lose or become unclear about long-term values. Instead of clear values, individuals reason or justify unworkable actions. For example, depressed clients may lose touch with their values of family, productive action or healthy living, engaging in behaviors that provide evidence for their depression. Moreover, the conflation of values and justification leads to individuals believing they have no desirable values. Without clear values, behaviours cannot be effectively guided, as values specify the problem and the necessary facilitative actions (Harris, 2009). Further, clear values provide guidelines as to how we relate to others, becoming the underlying basis of our actions. Unclear values provide a motivation to act with rules that are negatively fused with oneself. Clients may give reasons such as ‘I don’t deserve to be loved because I am a bad mother and wife.’ Instead of valuing being a good mother, the depressed client fuses with the image of being a bad mother, and justifies her consequences (unloved) in accordance with her augmenting rule.
Experiential avoidance gives rise to unworkable actions, impulsivity or inaction, which are behaviour patterns that decrease actions that facilitate effective engagement with the environment. Unworkable action creates a pattern of actions that narrow behavioural repertoires, such as impulsive and reactive actions, rather than mindful and purposeful actions. For example, clients with depression may use unworkable actions such as social withdrawal. Instead of being guided by values, individuals become motivated to avoid private events.
Attachment to Conceptualized Self
Cognitive fusion creates an attachment to a conceptualized self, where individuals fuse with self-descriptions. Self-descriptions provide a basis for individuals to evaluate themselves, inferring their personal identity from verbal rules (Harris, 2009). If a depressed client describes himself, as ‘someone who never finished school because he is too stupid and retarded,’ he will view himself exactly as that person. Through descriptive and evaluative verbal rules, individuals begin to organize historical and situationally defined contingencies into relational networks, avoiding any disconfirming thoughts that are in contrast to verbal rules. By the nature of our verbal repertoires, we become disengaged from the ‘here and now’ to defend ourselves from the ‘there and then.’ Individuals become attached to an idealized version of themselves, focusing on looking good and feeling good, instead of accepting the circumstances of the self, in present context.
Through verbalized ideals or conceptions, humans evaluate their present circumstances to their idealized self, past and future. These evaluations create a dichotomy between the conceptualized self and the self-in-present context. A conceptualized self develops from the fusion with thoughts, invariably defining psychological processes and behaviours of an individual. The self-in-present context engages the individual with the current experience; however this process is diminished through experiential avoidance. Through evaluation of one’s own circumstances to the verbalized ideals, acts of avoidance from aversive events leads individuals to provide reasons for poor coping strategies and loss of contact with real contingences of the environment. The fusion and avoidance of thoughts, evaluating one in comparison to the idealized self and reasoning one’s own unworkable actions lead to an increase in psychological suffering. This entanglement with language contaminates the present moment, limiting opportunities for personal growth and disconnecting individuals from their immediate experience with the current environmental context.
All text copyrighted (2010) – Sumeet Shergill, MSc
Why Understanding Potential?
It’s simple! We feel that it is important to understand the potential of humans across varying environments. Psychology is a field that is predominated by mental health. But psychology can be much broader than mental health. If you search the various types of psychology streams, you may find:
The list can go on. There are various professionals within these subfields who work towards gaining an understanding of the factors that may facilitate or undermine human growth.
Understanding Potential strives to provide a unique behavioral perspective on how to promote human growth within various environments. There are unique factors, individual and group, that create environments which promote healthy living and working, as well as enable unhelpful behaviors. A fresh perspective may help you determine the gaps within yourself, organization, staff members as well as family or friends.
Understand your potential.
– keep it UP!
Why You Should ACT on Your Mental Health Today
Western psychology focuses on promoting a healthy normality. What does this mean? It means that humans, naturally and inherently want to be happy and content. From this perspective, suffering is viewed as an abnormal, negative and a feeling that humans should not be experiencing. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is unique in its approach to psychology, suggesting that human suffering is actually the norm. Depression has become the fourth largest, financially burdening and debilitating disease in the world. These are the statistics and they are worrisome. 1 in 5 people will experience depression. 1 in 4 people will suffer from substance abuse. 1 in 2 people will consider suicide. 1 in 10 people have attempted suicide. Increasingly, we see people suffer from loneliness, low self-esteem, racism, discrimination, bullying, sexism, domestic violence and other stressors such as financial troubles. Even though we have progressed as a society, psychological suffering is all around us and on the rise.
The human being’s ability to use language is helpful when we need to anticipate and solve problems. As humans, when there is a problem, our first instinct is to find the solution that will get rid of the problem. This works well with the materialistic items in our life. Don’t like your couch? Get rid of it and buy a new one! It’s snowing and you don’t feel like driving into work? Call in sick and avoid it! We learn from a very young age to seek out solutions to our problems and sometimes those solutions are avoidance tactics (which aren’t very helpful psychologically). Since this approach works so well with the outside world, it would make sense that we would apply the same problem-solving skills to our inner emotional and mental health. We try really hard to get rid of or avoid unwanted negative private thoughts or feelings. The problem is that this only creates more suffering. Every time we are unable to ‘get a handle on it’ we feel that we are not trying hard enough, or someone else tells us that we are not trying hard enough. The more effort and energy we put into avoiding or getting rid of unwanted thoughts or feelings, the more we actually suffer. Let’s put this theoretical mumbo jumbo into practice. Let’s discuss anxiety.
Anxiety motivates us to avoid or get rid of anything that causes us anxiety. We create rules and rituals to get rid of anxiety provoking events or thoughts. But the more importance we put on getting rid of anxiety, the more anxiety we develop about our anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle. A panic attack is anxiety about anxiety. The more we use problem-solving strategies with our mental health, the longer we stay debilitated.
Let’s discuss depression. People with depression may withdraw from socializing and actively contributing to their family or work life. Thoughts such as “I’m only a burden, I have nothing to say or give, No one wants to hear from me or even see me, I am worthless” can affect our behaviours so deeply, that we decide to cancel our social engagement. Once that cancellation text, email or call has gone out, people with depression and anxiety will feel relieved. However, their social circle becomes smaller and smaller and the individual becomes more isolated in the long run.
People with chronic pain, depression, low mood and anxiety are constantly saying the following sentences to themselves every day. “If only I could get rid of my pain.” “If only I could get rid of my pain, then I could work on my health goals.” “If only I could get rid of my anxiety, then I could go to a party again.”
Does the above resonate with you? Maybe you have spent time in therapy, learning how to get rid of your unwanted emotions. You become stuck in this tug-of-war with your emotions and every action consists of you pulling away from the uncomfortable feelings. How long are you willing to hold on to the rope? How many rope-burns are you willing to get? What if, instead of playing tug-of-war with your feelings, you learn how to drop the rope instead? What if, you learn how to make space for the uncomfortable feelings that you have been trying to get rid of but never can permanently?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy rests on the fundamental premise that pain, suffering, illness, anxiety are inevitable components of human life. The aim of ACT is to understand and maximize the potential for a rich and meaningful life. ACT involves two major themes:
Teaching psychological skills to cope with painful and unwanted thoughts. This is done by increasing mindfulness skills to separate ourselves from our thoughts so that they have less impact and influence over our behaviours. We do not want our emotions to dictate our behaviours.
Help clarify a moral compass that consists of your values, which are then used to promote action towards your goals.
ACT is a therapy that helps you create a positive relationship with all of your emotions and feelings. Through working with a Psychotherapist who is experienced in ACT, you can learn to make room for the suffering that is around you without letting it consume you. ACT therapists provide a compassionate, accepting and empathic environment. ACT therapists can help point out obstacles that on your journey of life and also help you see alternative routes to these obstacles. ACT shows individuals how to embrace their inner demons while still following their own heart.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness based behavioral therapy which aims to maximize the human potential for living a valued and meaningful life. In this therapy, the core belief is the human suffering is normal, however the natural urge to resist uncomfortable feelings will maintain emotional problems. ACT takes the view that attempting to get rid of or changing difficult or unwanted thoughts can be counter productive to the success of living a valued life.
The goal of ACT is to teach clients to be willing to experience emotional pain and suffering while still committing to personal goals and values. ACT teaches clients to clarify values that help guide behaviors towards goals in a mindful way. ACT incorporates mindfulness skills to teach clients to become consciously aware of the present-moment in a non-judgemental and accepting manner. The overall goal in therapy is to increase psychological flexibility which is the ability to be fully present in current moment and engaged in behaviours towards a valued end. There are 6 core components that can increase psychological flexibility:
1. Acceptance: skills are taught to accept distressing thoughts and emotions rather than avoiding their presence. Acceptance skills involves a willingness to embrace and awareness of thoughts that are distressing without attempting to change or get rid of the thoughts. For example, clients who suffer from chronic pain are taught to encourage letting go of the struggle against pain.
2. Cognitive Defusion: skills are taught to change the way one relates to their thoughts and emotions so that the function of these thoughts, i.e. anxiety-inducing, becomes diminished, thereby reducing the literal function of the thought. This defusion process weakens the thought pattern, taking the client from literally held statements ("I am no good") to experientially held statements ("I am having the thought, that I am no good"). This results in a reduction of believability of that thought rather than reducing the frequency.
3. Being Present: skills are taught to contact the present-moment in a non-judgemental manner so that all environmental and psychological events are embraced. The goal is to teach clients to experience the world in a direct fashion, allowing behaviours to be more flexible and aligned with core values. Clients are taught how to exhibit more control over behaviour by describing the presence of a thought, rather than judging the thought.
4. Self-as-context: skills around language are taught to clients so that they become aware of the impact of verbal rules on their behaviour. For example, the verbal rule, “in order to be a good wife, I must cook and clean every day,” can dictate behaviours. Mindfulness is a core component in teaching clients how to become aware of their experiences without becoming attached.
5. Values: skills are taught to clarify values which provide a moral compass towards purposive action. A variety of exercises can help the client choose life directions in various domains (family, citizenship, parenting) while undermining the verbal rules that may interfere with participation in these domains (I must be X, in order to have Y).
6. Committed Action: skills are taught to develop a large repertoire of behavioral patterns that are aligned with values. Goal setting and skill development are an important part of addressing barriers to progress.