For the next few weeks Wellness Wednesday will explore different treatment modalities to assist readers in recognizing the variety of options available to them to support their needs and move forward towards wellness. We will also feature a few guest authors who specialize in different modalities, while #WellnessWednesday's Jessica enjoys a little vacation-based self-care. This weeks guest author is Michael Decaire, clinical psychologist, registered psychotherapist, and the founder of FLEX Psychology.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a more recently developed approach to therapy that integrates and expands on the key elements of many popular treatments that preceded it (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [CBT]; Mindfulness Therapies). ACT starts by having the individual identify their values and goals, which will ultimately act as a guidepost to where they hope to end up at the end of the day. Once a direction is chosen, an ACT therapist will help you identify thoughts that emerge and tend to push you down a path that moves you away from your identified values and goals. These thoughts might be distortions similar to those that are identified in CBT, or they just may simply be unhelpful.
While breaking down and reconsidering distorted and unhelpful thoughts can be fruitful, ACT is more of an action oriented treatment. It is anchored on the idea that we can choose a path that moves us towards our values and goals in the face of unhelpful thoughts. More often than not, in the moment, we act in a manner that may respond to or resolve an uncomfortable thought, but that act ultimately moves us away from our goals. For instance, while writing this post I found myself struggling to find the words I was looking for. This was mildly frustrating. I have the option to choose to put off writing this post and go read something on my phone. This would resolve my momentary frustrations, but it would also move me away from my goals of submitting this on time and supporting Jessica while she is on her wellness vacation. Alternatively, I could choose to read over what I have already read and see if that triggers the words I was looking for to finish my thought. Since my goal was to support Jessica (and not to avoid frustration) it makes it fairly easy to decide what choice to make.
ACT therapists will often integrate mindfulness meditation into treatment. Mindfulness approaches focus on increasing one’s moment-to-moment awareness. In ACT, this assists in noticing unhelpful thoughts when they emerge and that facilitates an increased ability to make an informed choice in how you want to respond to those thoughts. Sometimes you will still miss a thought and my notice once you are already down the wrong path. Returning to my original example, consider a scenario where I began with the intention of writing this post and suddenly found myself on my phone reading the news. This means I may have missed a thought that pulled me off my initial goal, but, most importantly, I am noticing now that I am heading in the wrong direction. That awareness allows another path to emerge to my initial goal, causing me to put down my phone and reengaging with my writing.
Often ACT-informed therapists will integrate these principals into their work, but may also include other approaches that fit your needs. So do not be surprised if you see some of these concepts emerge in the course of another treatment. In essence, this was the therapist’s choice to create an alternative path to meeting your agreed upon goals. At the end of the day, it’s all about noticing and then choosing wisely.
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For the next few weeks Wellness Wednesday will explore different treatment modalities to assist readers in recognizing the variety of options available to them to support their needs and move forward towards wellness. We will also feature a few guest authors who specialize in different modalities, while #WellnessWednesday's Jessica enjoys a little vacation-based self-care.
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and relies on the premise that our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions are interconnected. Because of this interconnection, CBT upholds that a change in one domain will lead to a change in the other domain. Therefore, if anxiety (an emotion) is the target of desired change, a CBT clinician will help you learn to change your thoughts and your behaviours to best lead to changes in your experience of anxiety.
When it comes to changing thought processes, CBT aims to help individuals learn to identify unhelpful negative thoughts that emerge almost “automatically”. Upon identifying these thoughts, your therapist assists you in learning how to challenge those thoughts, identify cognitive errors that have emerged (i.e. when your brain is lying to you), and choose adaptive alternative thoughts to replace the negative thoughts with.
Within the behavioural domain, CBT aims to help you identify behaviours that maintain a depressive or anxious cycle while identifying behaviours that might help an individual to reverse that cycle.
CBT is structured, goal oriented, and therapist driven. If you are looking for a type of therapy that is action focussed and assigns weekly homework to help integrate teachings into your daily life then it might be a great fit for you. Be mindful that many therapists occupy a more eclectic approach to treatment, piecing together two or more types of therapy in a way that often augments CBT with other tools personalized to your needs. CBT is very present oriented, but occasional discussion of your past may be relevant to understanding the present.
While it may be difficult to experience negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, and guilt, these emotions can also serve an important purpose. They are certainly not enjoyable and experiencing positive emotions may feel more desirable in the moment, but the reality is that we have a full range of emotions for a reason. In fact, the ability to have a diverse emotional experience is an adaptive strength and one of the key things that has made humans so successful.
Experiencing sadness can alert us to the need to make changes in our lives, help us identify a deficit in personal fulfilling relationships, or flag the need for actions that align with our values. Feeling anxiety and fear help to protect us from danger. Stress is also not necessarily a bad thing. While extreme stress can lead to feelings of burnout and impede our performance, moderate stress can be motivating and may propel us to focus and work harder.
It may be surprising that positive emotions can actually be quite dangerous. While we certainly could use a little more happiness in our lives, chasing positive emotions in an attempt to avoid negative ones can be maladaptive. Excessive drinking, drug use, or risky behaviours can all stem from this combination of positive emotion chasing and negative emotion avoidance.
Still, we should aim to experience negative emotions in moderation and use them as warning signs, motivators, and red flags to alert ourselves to changes that need to be made in our lives.
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I don't know if I’m just now noticing, but book titles have been getting a lot bolder lately. But hey, it seems to be working because it got me to pick it up and buy Let That Sh*t Go.
Let That Sh*t Go is a self-help book written by two women passionate about Mindfulness. It’s a casual read that it easy to connect with. It’s conversational style, makes the reader feel like they are talking to a friend who has had great success in therapy and is happy to share what they have learned. I enjoyed the brief and focused chapters, providing bite sized pieces to take in, digest and easily try out for yourself. Each chapter is example focused, assisting the reader in trying out alternative perspectives and techniques like “examining the evidence” and talking to your negative thoughts like they are on trial.
Let That Sh*T Gofelt relatable and introduced mindfulness as being much more than sitting down and meditating, something that often gets lost in the general media. I also like that in addition to a focus on mindfulness-based perspectives and techniques, there is a large portion of the book dedicated to understanding and working with our automatic negative thoughts, something that borrows from cognitive and cognitive-behavioural perspectives.
I was initially hesitant and critical of the book before I started reading it due to its brash title and seemingly unqualified authors who are not regulated mental health professionals. However, I let that sh*t go and soon found myself excited to begin a new chapter and discover great use of many techniques I have already been teaching my own clients.
One of my favourite mini chapters in the book was one that discusses the analogy of “updating your software”. It reminds us that our brain can also be a spinning rainbow circle or hourglass when our mental browser has too many tabs open or we’ve been ignoring the essential updates a little too long. Sometimes rebooting our software just requires a little bit of self-care.
Let That Sh*t Go is available at Amazon, Indigo, the library, and local sellers.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.
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